[The orphan-hero is badly treated by those who are left in charge of him. He is rescued from his miserable life by his uncle, Lieutenant Tom Bowling, another of Smollett's sea-dogs, and educated at a university until misfortune overtakes his benefactor. At this, Random studies surgery, and leaves his native Scotland in order to try his luck in London.
On the way, he meets an old school-fellow, the barber Strap, who is so simple a man and one so overwhelmed by the gentlemanly veneer of his friend that he joins him as a servant. Roderick tries unsuccessfully to enlist as a naval surgeon, but is eventually press-ganged and sent on the West Indies expedition.
On his return to England, he is greatly attracted to a lady called Narcissa, but is carried off by smugglers; he volunteers for the French army and, during his campaigns, again meets Strap, by now a highly successful valet. So over-trusting is the barber that he hands over all his money and his very large wardrobe of clothes, and again joins Random as a servant. Thus equipped as a 'gentleman', Random returns to England in order to enter high society.
At the theatre he meets Melinda, an heiress, and is immediately attracted to her. Later in the evening he gets into conversation with Mr. Medlar, a hanger-on of polite society, and a silly physician called Dr. Wagtail 'in which natural levity and affected solemnity were so jumbled together that he appeared a burlesque on all decorum'.]
THEY NO sooner perceived me enter with Dr. Wagtail (for that was my companion's name) than they tittered and whispered one to another, and I was not a little surprised to find that they were the gentlemen to whose acquaintance he designed to recommend me; for, when he observed them together, he told me who they were and desired to know by what name he should introduce me. I satisfied him in that particular, and he advanced with great gravity, saying, 'Gentlemen, your most obedient. Give me leave to introduce my friend Mr. Random to your society.' Then turning to me, 'Mr. Random, this is Mr. Bragwell — Mr. Banter, sir — Mr. Chatter — my friend Mr. Slyboot, and Mr. Ranter, sir.'
I saluted each of them in order, and, when I came to take Mr. Slyboot by the hand, I perceived him thrust his tongue in his cheek, to the no small entertainment of the company; but I did not think proper to take any notice of it on this occasion. Mr. Ranter too (who I afterwards learned was a player) displayed his talents by mimicking my air, features and voice while he returned my compliment. This feat I should not have been so sensible of had I not seen him behave in the same manner to my friend Wagtail when he made up to them at first. I overheard Banter ask Dr. Wagtail where he had picked up this Mr. Random. To which question the physician answered, 'Upon my word, a mighty pretty sort of a gentleman, a man of fortune, sir; he has made the grand tour, and seen the best company in Europe, sir.'
'What! He told you so, I suppose?' said the other. 'I take him to be neither more nor less than a French valet de chambre.'
'Oh! Barbarous, barbarous!' cried the doctor. 'This is actually, upon my word, altogether unaccountable. I know all his family perfectly well, sir. He's of the Randoms of the north, a very ancient house, sir, and a distant relation of mine.'
I was extremely nettled at the conjecture of Mr. Banter and began to entertain a very indifferent opinion of my company in general; but, as I might possibly by their means acquire a more extensive and agreeable acquaintance, I determined to bear these little mortifications as long as I could without injuring the dignity of my character. After having talked for some time on the weather, plays, politics and other coffee-house subjects, it was proposed that we should spend the evening at a noted tavern in the neighbourhood, whither we repaired in a body.
Having taken possession of a room, called for French wine, and bespoke dinner, the glass went about pretty freely, and the characters of my associates opened upon me more and more. It soon appeared that the doctor was entertained as a butt for the painter and player to exercise their wit upon for the diversion of the company. Mr. Ranter began the game by asking what was good for a hoarseness, lowness of spirits and indigestion, for he was troubled with all these complaints to a very great degree. Wagtail immediately undertook to explain the nature of his case, and in a very prolix manner harangued upon prognostics, diagnostics, symptomatics, therapeutics, inanition and repletion; then calculated the force of the stomach and lungs in their respective operations; ascribed the player's malady to a disorder in these organs, proceeding from hard drinking and vociferation; and prescribed a course of stomachics with abstinence from wine and loud speaking, laughing, singing, coughing, sneezing or hallooing.
'Pah! Pah!' cried Ranter, interrupting him. 'The remedy is worse than the disease. I wish I knew where to find some tinder — water.'
'Tinder-water!' said the doctor. 'Upon my word, I don't apprehend you, Mr. Ranter.'
'Water extracted from tinder,' replied the other. 'An universal specific for all distempers incident to man. It was invented by a learned German monk who, for a valuable consideration, imparted the secret to Paracelsus.'
'Pardon me,' cried the painter, 'it was first used by Solomon, as appears by a Greek manuscript, in his own hand-writing, lately found at the foot of Mount Lebanon by a peasant who was digging for potatoes.'
'Well,' said Wagtail, 'in all my vast reading I never met with such a preparation, neither did I know till this minute that Solomon understood Greek, or that potatoes grew in Palestine.' Here Banter interposed saying he was surprised that Dr. Wagtail should make the least doubt of Solomon's understanding Greek when he is represented to us as the wisest and best educated prince in the world; and as for potatoes, they were transplanted thither from Ireland, in the time of the Crusades, by some knights of that country. 'I profess,' said the doctor,'there is nothing more likely. I would actually give a vast sum for a sight of that manuscript, which must be inestimable, and, if I understood the process, would set about it immediately.'
The player assured him the process was very simple; that he must cram a hundredweight of dry tinder into a glass retort, and, distilling it by the force of animal heat, it would yield half a scruple of insipid water, one drop of which is a full dose.
'Upon my integrity!' exclaimed the credulous doctor. 'This is very amazing and extraordinary. That a caput mortuum shall yield any water at all! I must own I have always been an enemy of specifics, which I thought inconsistent with the nature of the animal economy; but certainly the authority of Solomon is not to be questioned. I wonder where I shall find a glass retort large enough to contain such a vast quantity of tinder, the consumption of which must undoubtedly raise the price of paper. Or where shall I find animal heat sufficient even to warm such a mass?'
Slyboot informed him that he might have a retort blown for him as big as a church, and that the easiest method of raising the vapour by animal heat would be to place it in the middle of an infirmary for feverish patients, who might lie upon mattresses around and in contact with it. He had no sooner pronounced these words than Wagtail exclaimed in a rapture, 'An admirable expedient, as I hope to be saved! I will positively put it in practice.' This simplicity of the physician furnished excellent diversion for the company who, in their turns, sneered at him in ironical compliments which his vanity swallowed as the genuine sentiments of their hearts.
Mr. Chatter, impatient of so long a silence, now broke out and entertained us with a catalogue of all the people who danced at the last Hampstead assembly, with a most circumstantial account of the dress and ornaments of each, from the lappets of the ladies to the shoe-buckles of the men, concluding with telling Bragwell that his mistress Melinda was there and seemed to miss him, and soliciting his company on the next occasion of that kind.
'No, no, damme,' said Bragwell, 'I have something else to mind than dangle after a parcel of giddy-headed girls. Besides, you know my temper is so unruly that I am apt to involve myself in scrapes when a woman is concerned. The last time I was there, I had an affair with Tom Trippet.'
'O, I remember that,' cried Banter. 'You lugged out before the ladies; and I commend you for so doing, because you had an opportunity of showing your manhood without running any risk.'
'Risk!' said the other, with a fierce countenance. 'Damn my blood, I fear no risks. I an't afraid of lugging out against any man that wears a head, damme. 'Tis well known I have drawn blood more than once — and lost some, too. But what does that signify?' The player begged this champion to employ him as his second the next time he intended to kill, for he wanted to see a man die of a stab that he might know how to act such a part and more naturally on the stage. 'Die!' replied the hero. 'No, by god, I know better things than to incur the verdict of a Middlesex jury. I should look upon my fencing-master as ignorant if he had not taught me to prick any part of my antagonist's body that I please to disable.'
'Oho,' cried Slyboot, 'if that be the case, I have a favour to ask. Now I should be glad you would, in my presence, pink some impertinent fellow into convulsions without endangering his life, that I may have an opportunity of taking a good clever agony from nature; the doctor will direct you where to enter and how far to go; but, pray, let it be as near the left side as possible.'
Wagtail, who took this proposal seriously, observed that it would be very difficult to penetrate into the left side of the thorax without hurting the heart and of consequence killing the patient; but he believed it was possible for a man of a very nice hand and exact knowledge of anatomy to wound the diaphragma somewhere about the skirts, which might induce a singultus without being attended with death; that he was ready to demonstrate the insertion of the muscle to Mr. Bragwell, but desired to have no concern with the experiment which might essentially prejudice his reputation in case of a miscarriage. Bragwell was as much imposed upon by the painter's waggery as the doctor, and declined engaging in the affair, saying he had a very great regard for Mr. Slyboot but had laid it down as a maxim never to fight except when his honour was engaged.
A thousand jokes of this kind were uttered; the wine circulated, supper was served, we ate heartily, returned to the bottle, Bragwell became noisy and troublesome, Banter grew more and more severe, Ranter rehearsed, Slyboot made faces at the whole company, I sang French catches and Chatter kissed me with great affection; while the doctor, with a woeful countenance, sat silent like a disciple of Pythagoras. At length it was proposed by Bragwell that we should scour the hundreds, sweat the constable, maul the watch, and then reel soberly to bed.
I met my friend Banter at the ordinary; and in the evening went to the opera with him and Mr. Chatter who pointed out Melinda in one of the boxes, and offered to introduce me to her, observing at the same time that she was a reigning toast worth ten thousand pounds. This piece of information made my heart bound with joy, and I discovered great eagerness to accept the proposal; upon which he assured me I should dance with her at the next assembly if he had any influence in that quarter; so saying, he went round, spoke to her some minutes and, as I imagined, pointed at me; then returning, told me to my inexpressible pleasure that I might depend upon what he had promised, for she was now engaged as my partner. Banter in a whisper gave me to understand that she was an incorrigible coquette who would grant the same favour to any young fellow in England of a tolerable appearance, merely to engage him among the herd of her admirers, that she might have the pleasure of seeing them daily increase; that she was of a cold, insensible disposition, dead to every passion but vanity, and so blind to merit that he would lay any wager the wealthiest fool should carry her at last. I attributed a good deal of this intelligence to the satirical turn of my friend, or resentment for having himself suffered a rebuff from the lady in question; and, at any rate, trusted so much to my own accomplishments as to believe no woman could resist the ardour of my addresses.
Full in this confidence, I repaired to Hampstead in company with Billy Chatter, my Lord Hobble and Dr. Wagtail. There I saw a very brilliant assembly before whom I had the honour to walk a minuet with Melinda, who charmed me with her frank manners and easiness of behaviour. Before the country-dances began, I received a message (by a person I did not know) from Bragwell, who was present, importing that nobody who knew him presumed to dance with Melinda while he was there in person, and that I would do well to relinquish her without noise because he had a mind to lead up a country-dance with her.
This extraordinary intimation, which was delivered in the lady's hearing, did not at all discompose me, who by this time was pretty well acquainted with the character of my rival. I therefore, without the least symptom of concern, bade the gentleman tell Mr. Bragwell that, since I was so happy as to obtain the lady's consent, I should not be so solicitous about his, and desired the bearer himself to bring me no such impertinent messages for the future. Melinda affected a sort of confusion and pretended to wonder that Mr. Bragwell should give himself such liberties with regard to her, who had no manner of connection with the fellow. I laid hold of this opportunity to display my valour and offered to call him to an account for his insolence, a proposal which she absolutely refused under pretence of consulting my safety, though I could perceive by the sparkling of her eyes that she would not have thought herself affronted in being the subject of a duel. I was by no means pleased with this discovery of her thoughts, which not only argued the most unjustifiable vanity but likewise the most barbarous indifference; however, I was allured by her fortune, and resolved to gratify her pride in making her the occasion of a public quarrel between me and Bragwell who, I was pretty certain, would never drive matters to a dangerous extremity.
While we danced together, I observed this formidable rival at one end of the room, encircled with a cluster of beaux to whom he talked with great vehemence, casting many big looks at me from time to time. I guessed the subject of his discourse and as soon as I had handed my partner to her seat strutted up to the place where he stood and, cocking my hat in his face, demanded aloud if he had anything to say to me.
He answered with a sullen tone, 'Nothing at present, sir,' and turned about upon his heel.
'Well,' said I, 'you know where I am to be found at any time.' His companions stared at one another and I returned to the lady, whose features brightened at my approach; and immediately a whisper ran through the whole room, after which so many eyes were turned upon me that I was ready to sink with confusion. When the ball broke up, I led her to her coach; and, like a true French gallant, would have got up behind it in order to protect her from violence on the road, but she absolutely refused my offer and expressed her concern, that there was not an empty seat for me within the vehicle.
Next day in the afternoon, I waited on her at her lodgings, by permission, in company with Chatter, and was very civilly received by her mother with whom she lived. There were a good many fashionable people present, chiefly young fellows; and immediately after tea a couple of card-tables were set, at one of which I had the honour to play with Melinda, who in less than three hours made shift to plunder me of eight guineas. I was well enough content to lose a little money with a good grace that I might have an opportunity in the meantime to say soft things, which are still most welcome when attended with good luck; but I was by no means satisfied of her fair play, a circumstance that shocked me not a little and greatly impaired my opinion of her disinterestedness and delicacy. However, I was resolved to profit by this behaviour and treat her in my turn with less ceremony; accordingly, I laid close siege to her and, finding her not at all disgusted with the gross incense I offered, that very night made a declaration of love in plain terms.
She received my addresses with great gaiety and pretended to laugh them off, but at the same time treated me with such particular complacency that I was persuaded I had made a conquest of her heart, and concluded myself the happiest man alive. Elevated with these flattering ideas, I sat down again at cards after supper and, with great cheerfulness, suffered myself to be cheated of ten guineas more.
It was late before I took my leave, after being favoured with a general invitation; and when I got into bed, the adventures of the day hindered me from sleeping. Sometimes I pleased myself with the hopes of possessing a fine woman with ten thousand pounds; then I would ruminate on the character I had heard of her from Banter, and compare it with the circumstances of her conduct towards me, which seemed to bear too great a resemblance to the picture he had drawn. This introduced a melancholy reflection on the expense I had undergone, and the smallness of my funds to support it (which, by-the-bye, were none of my own). In short, I found myself involved in doubts and perplexities that kept me awake the greatest part of the night.
In the morning Strap, with whom I had not conversed for two days, presented himself with the utensils for shaving me; upon which I asked his opinion of the lady whom he had seen me conduct to her coach at Hampstead.
'Odd! She's a delicious creature,' cried he, 'and, as I am informed, a great fortune. I am sorry you did not insist on going home with her. I dare say she would not have refused your company for she seems to be a good-natured soul.'
'There's a time for all things,' said I. 'You must know, Strap, I was in company with her till one o'clock this morning.' I had no sooner pronounced these words than he began to caper about the room and snap his fingers, crying in a transport, 'The day's our own! The day's our own!'
I gave him to understand that his triumph was a little premature and that I had more difficulties to surmount than he was aware of; then I recounted to him the intelligence I had received from Banter, at which he changed colour, shook his head, and observed there was no faith in woman. I told him I was resolved to make a bold push notwithstanding, although I foresaw it would lead me into a great expense, and bade him guess the sum I had lost last night at cards. He scratched his chin and professed his abhorrence of cards, the very name of which being mentioned made him sweat with vexation.
'But, however,' said he, 'you have to do with other-guess people now. Why, I suppose if you had a bad run last night you would scarce come off for less than ten or twelve shillings.'
I was mortified at this piece of simplicity, which I imagined at that time was all affected by way of reprimand for my folly, and asked with some heat if he thought I spent the evening in a cellar with chairmen and bunters, giving him to know at the same time that my expense had amounted to eighteen guineas. It would require the pencil of Hogarth to express the astonishment and concern of Strap on hearing this piece of news; the basin in which he was preparing the lather for my chin dropped out of his hands, and he remained some time immovable in that ludicrous attitude, with his mouth open and his eyes thrust forward considerably beyond their station; but remembering my disposition, which was touchy and impatient of control, he smothered his chagrin and attempted to recollect himself. With this view, he endeavoured to laugh, but, in spite of his teeth, broke out into a whimper, took up his wash-ball and pewter-pot, scrubbed my beard with the one and discharged the other upon my face. I took no notice of his confusion but, after he had fully recovered himself, put him in mind of his right, and assured him of my readiness to surrender his effects whenever he should think proper to demand them. He was nettled at my insinuation, which he thought proceeded from my distrust of his friendship, and begged that I would never talk to him in that strain again unless I had a mind to break his heart.
This good creature's unalterable friendship for me affected me with the most grateful sentiments, and acted as a spur to my resolution of acquiring a fortune, that I might have it in my power to manifest my generosity in my turn. For this purpose, I determined to bring matters to a speedy conclusion with Melinda, well knowing that a few such nights as the last would effectually incapacitate me from prosecuting that or any other advantageous amour.
While my meditation was busied planning out my future conduct, Mr. Banter favoured me with a visit, and after breakfast asked how I had passed the preceding evening. I answered I was very agreeably entertained at a private house.
'Yes,' said he with a sarcastic smile, 'you deserved something extraordinary for the price you paid.'
I was surprised at this remark, and pretended ignorance of his meaning.
'Come, come, Random,' continued he, 'you need not make a mystery of it to me when the whole town has it. I wish that foolish affair between you and Bragwell at Hampstead had been less public. It has set all the busybodies at work to find out your real character and situation, and you cannot imagine what conjectures have already circulated at your expense. One suspects you to be a Jesuit in disguise; another thinks you are an agent from the Pretender; a third believes you to be an upstart gamester, because nobody knows anything of your family, or fortune; a fourth is of opinion that you are an Irish fortune-hunter.' This last hypothesis touched me so nearly that, to conceal my confusion, I was fain to interrupt his detail, and damn the world for an envious meddling community that would not suffer a gentleman to live without molestation. He took no notice of this apostrophe, but went on, 'For my part, I neither know nor desire to know who or what you are. This I am certain of, that few people make a mystery of their origin or situation who can boast of anything advantageous in either; and my own opinion of the matter is that you have raised yourself by your industry from nothing to the appearance you now maintain, and which you endeavour to support by some matrimonial scheme.' Here he fixed his eyes steadfastly upon me and, perceiving my face covered with blushes, told me now he was confirmed in his opinion. 'Look ye, Random,' said he, 'I have divined your plan and am confident it will never succeed. You are too honest and too ignorant of the town to practise the necessary cheats of your profession, and detect the conspiracies that will be formed against you. Besides, you are downright bashful. What the devil! Set up for a fortunehunter before you have conquered the sense of shame! Perhaps you are entitled by your merit — and I believe you are — to a richer and better wife than Melinda; but, take my word for it, she is not to be won at that rate; or if you are so lucky as to carry her, between you and me, you may say as Teague did "By my soul, I have gained a loss". She would take care to spend her fortune in a twinkling, and soon make you sick of her extravagance.'
I was alarmed by his discourse while I resented the freedom of it, and expressed my disgust by telling him he was mistaken in my intentions and desiring he would give me leave to regulate my conduct according to the dictates of my own reason. He made an apology for the liberty he had taken, and ascribed it to the warmth of his friendship for me, as an uncommon instance of which he borrowed five guineas, assuring me there were very few people in the world whom he would so far favour with his confidence. I gave him the money and professed myself so well convinced of his sincerity that he had no occasion to put it to such extraordinary proof for the future.
'I thought,' said he, 'to have asked five pieces more, but hearing you were bubbled of eighteen last night I presumed you might be out of cash and resolved to model my demand accordingly.' I could not help admiring the cavalier behaviour of this spark, of whom I desired to know his reason for saying I was bubbled. He then gave me to understand that before he came to my lodgings he had beat up Tom Tossle who, having been present, informed him of the particulars, rehearsed all the fine things I said to Melinda, with which he proposed to entertain the town, and among other circumstances assured him my mistress cheated with so little art that nobody but a mere novice could have been imposed upon.
The thoughts of becoming a subject of raillery for coxcombs — and losing my money to boot — stung me to the quick; but I made a virtue of my indignation and swore that no man should with impunity either asperse the character of Melinda or turn my behaviour into ridicule. He replied in a dry manner that I would find it an Herculean task to chastise everybody who should laugh at my expense; and as for the character of Melinda, he did not see how it could suffer by what was laid to her charge, for that cheating at cards, far from being reckoned a blemish among people of fashion, was looked upon as an honourable indication of superior genius and address. 'But let us waive this subject,' said he, 'and go to the coffee-house in order to make a party for dinner.'
Being as willing to drop the theme as he to propose it, I accompanied him thither, where we found Mr. Medlar and Dr. Wagtail disputing upon the word custard, which the physician affirmed should be spelt with a G because it was derived from the Latin verb gustare 'to taste'. But Medlar pleaded custom in behalf of C, observing that, by the doctor's rule, we ought to change pudding into budding because it is derived from the French word boudin; and in that case why not retain the original orthography and pronunciation of all the foreign words we have adopted, by which means our language would become a dissonant jargon without standard or propriety. The controversy was referred to us, and Banter, notwithstanding his real opinion to the contrary, decided it in favour of Wagtail, upon which the peevish annuitant arose and, uttering the monosyllable 'Pish!' with great emphasis, removed to another table.
We then inquired of the doctor what progress he had made in the experiment of distilling tinder-water; and he told us he had been at all the glass-houses about town but could find nobody who would undertake to blow a retort large enough to hold the third part of the quantity prescribed; but he intended to try the process on as much as would produce five drops, which would be sufficient to prove the specific, and then he would make it a parliamentary affair; that he had already purchased a considerable weight of rags, in reducing which to tinder he had met with a misfortune which had obliged him to change his lodgings, for he had gathered them in a heap on the floor, and set fire to them with a candle, on the supposition that the boards would sustain no damage because it is the nature of flame to ascend; but, by some very extraordinary accident, the wood was invaded and began to blaze with great violence, which disordered him so much that he had not presence of mind enough to call for assistance, and the whole house must have been consumed, with him in the midst of it, had not the smoke that rolled out of the windows in clouds alarmed the neighbourhood and brought people to his succour. That he had lost a pair of black velvet breeches and a tie-wig in the hurry, besides the expense of rags, which were rendered useless by the water used to quench the flame, and the damage to the floor which he was compelled to repair. That his landlord, believing him distracted, had insisted on his quitting his apartment at a minute's warning, and he was put to incredible inconvenience; but now he was settled in a very comfortable house, and had the use of a large paved yard for preparing his tinder, so that he hoped in a very short time to reap the fruits of his labour.
When I was ready to go abroad next day, Strap brought me a letter — To Mr. Random, Esq. — which, upon opening, I found contained a challenge conceived in these very extraordinary terms:
Whereas I am informed that you make love to Miss Melinda Goosetrap. This is to let you know that she is under promise of marriage to me, and that I am at present waiting at the back of Montague House with a pair of good pistols in my hand! And if you will keep your appointment, I will make your tongue confess (after the breath is out of your body) that you do not deserve her as well as
I guessed from the style and subscription of this billet that my rival was a true Milesian, and was not a little uneasy at the contents, especially that part in which he asserted his right to my mistress by promise, a circumstance I did not know how to reconcile to her good sense and penetration. However, this was no time for me to decline the defiance, because the success of my addresses might in a great measure depend upon my behaviour in that affair. I therefore immediately loaded my pistols and took myself in a hackney-coach to the place appointed, where I found a tall raw-boned man, with a hard-featured countenance and black bushy beard, walking by himself, wrapped up in a shabby greatcoat, over which his own hair descended in a leather queue from his head, that was covered with a greasy hat trimmed with a tarnished point d'espagne. He no sooner perceived me advancing than he pulled a pistol from his bosom and, presenting it at me, snapped it without the least preamble. Alarmed at this rude salutation, I made a stand and, before he could adjust his other piece, fired one of mine at him without doing any damage. By this time he was ready with his second, that flashed in the pan without going off, upon which he called, with a true Tipperary cadence, 'Fire away, honey!' and began to hammer his flint with great deliberation.
But I was resolved to make use of the advantage fortune had given me and therefore stepped up without throwing away my fire, desiring him to ask his life or prepare for another world; but this stout Hibernian refused to condescend, and complained bitterly of my having quitted my ground before he could return my shot, saying I ought to go back to my station and let him have an equal chance with me. I endeavoured to persuade him that I had given him a double chance already, and it was my business to prevent him from enjoying a third; but now, since I had an opportunity, I demanded a parley, and desired to know his condition and reason for calling me to the field, who (to the best of my remembrance) far from having done him an injury, had never before seen him.
He told me that he was a gentleman of fortune who had spent all he had; and, hearing Melinda had got ten thousand pounds, he intended to make himself master of that sum by espousing her, and was determined (in an honourable way) to cut the throats of all who stood between him and his hopes. I then demanded to know the foundation of his hopes, and now that I had seen him being more and more astonished at the circumstance of the promise, desired that he would explain that mystery.
He gave me to understand that he trusted entirely to his birth and personal merit; that he had frequently written to Melinda setting forth his claim and pretensions, but she was never kind enough to send an answer or even to admit him into her presence; and that the promise he mentioned in his letter was made by his friend Mr. Gahagan, who assured him that no woman could resist a man of his appearance.
I could not forbear laughing to excess at the simplicity of my rival, who did not seem to relish my mirth, but began to be very serious, upon which I endeavoured to appease him by giving him my word and honour that, far from prejudicing his addresses to the lady, I would represent him to her in the most favourable light I could choose with any regard to truth; but he must not be surprised if she should remain blind to his deserts, for nothing was more capricious than a woman's mind, and the affection of that sex was seldom purchased with virtue alone. That my declaration might have the better effect, I took notice of his deshabille and, professing sorrow at seeing a gentleman reduced, slipped two guineas into his hand, at sight of which he threw away his pistols and, hugging me in his arms, cried, 'Arrah, now you are the best friend I have met with these seven long years!' When I had suffered some minutes in his embrace, he quitted me and, picking up his rusty arms, wished the devil might burn him if ever he should give me any further trouble about womankind.
The quarrel being thus amicably composed, I begged leave to look at his pistols, which I found so crazy and so foul that I believe it was happy for him neither of them was discharged, for one of them would certainly have split in the going off, and he would in all probability have lost his hand in the explosion; but what gave me a lively idea of the man's character was to find upon examination that one of them had been loaded without being primed, and the other primed without a charge.
As we walked along conversing socially together, we were met by a file of musketeers, and Strap at their head, who no sooner approached than with a frantic look he cried, 'Seize them! In the name of God, seize them!' We were accordingly surrounded, and I put in arrest by the corporal who was commanding officer; but Captain Oregan disengaged himself and ran with such speed towards Tottenham Court Road that he was out of sight in a moment.
When my arms were delivered up and myself secured, Strap became a little more composed and asked pardon for the liberty he had taken, which he hoped I would excuse as it proceeded from his affection. He then told me that, suspecting the letter (which by the bye was brought by the author himself) contained something extraordinary, he had peeped through the key-hole and seen me load my pistols; upon which he ran down to Whitehall and applied to the officer on guard for a party to put me in arrest, but before he returned I was gone in a coach; that he had inquired which way I went, and having heard that duels were commonly fought at the back of Montague House, he conducted the guard to this place, where he thanked God for having found me safe and sound.
I gave him to understand that I forgave his officious concern for once, but cautioned him in pretty severe terms from making me the subject of idle conversation for the future; then, turning to the corporal, thanked him for his care and gave him a crown to drink with his men, assuring him that the rencontre was over long before he came up, and everything compromised, as he might have observed by our behaviour, as a further proof of which he would find, upon examination, that one of my pistols had been discharged. But this civil person, without giving himself or me any further trouble, received the bounty with a thousand bows and acknowledgments and, returning the pistols, released me immediately.
He was not gone a hundred yards when my friend Oregan came up in order to rescue me, with two tatter-demalions whom he had engaged for that purpose about the purlieus of St. Giles. One of them was armed with a musket that wanted a lock, and another with a rusty broadsword, but their dress surpassed all description.
When he understood I was already free, he made apology for his abrupt departure, and introduced me to his two companions: first, to Counsellor Fitzclabber who, he told me, was then employed in compiling a history of the kings of Munster, from Irish manuscripts; and then to his friend Mr. Gahagan who was a profound philosopher and politician, and had projected many excellent schemes for the good of his country. But it seems these literati had been very ill rewarded for their ingenious labours, for between them both there was but one shirt and half a pair of breeches. I thanked them very kindly for their readiness to assist me and, having offered my services in my turn, bade them good-morrow, desiring Oregan to accompany me to my lodgings, where he was fitted with decent clothes from my wardrobe, so much to his satisfaction that he swore eternal gratitude and friendship to me and, at my request, recounted all the adventures of his life.
In the afternoon I waited on Melinda who received me with great kindness and familiarity, and laughed excessively at my adventure with the Irishman, to whose wishes she was no stranger, having more than a dozen letters in her possession which he had wrote to her on the subject of love, and which, for my entertainment, she submitted to my perusal. Having made ourselves merry at the expense of this poor admirer, I seized the opportunity of her mother's going out of the room, and introduced my own passion which I recommended to her with all the ardour and eloquence I was master of. I flattered, sighed, swore, entreated, and acted a thousand extravagances in hopes of making some impression on her heart; but she heard everything I said without discovering the least emotion, and other company came in before she would vouchsafe one serious reply. After tea, the cards were brought in according to custom, and it was my good fortune to have Melinda for my partner, by which means, instead of losing, I came off with five guineas clear gain.
I soon became acquainted with a good many people of fashion, and spent my time in the modish diversions of the town, such as plays, operas, masquerades, drums, assemblies and puppet-shows, chiefly in company with Melinda whom I cultivated with all the eagerness and address that my prospect could inspire and my education afford. I spared neither my person nor my purse to gratify her vanity and pride; my rivals were intimidated and indeed out-shone; and, after all, I began to fear that the dear creature had not a heart to lose.
At last, finding myself unable to support the expense of this amour much longer, I was determined to bring the matter to a crisis; and one evening, while we were together by ourselves, complained of her indifference, described the tortures of suspense to a love-sick mind, and pressed her to disclose her sentiments of matrimony and me with such earnestness that she could not, with all her art, shift the subject, but was obliged to come to an eclaircissement. She told me with a careless air that she had no objection to my person, and if I could satisfy her mother in other particulars, I should not find her averse to the match; but she was resolved to do nothing in such a momentous concern without the advice and consent of her parent.
This was no very agreeable declaration to me whose aim had been to win her inclination first and then secure my conquest by a private marriage, to which I flattered myself she would express no reluctance. That I might not, however, desert my cause before it was desperate, I waited on her mother, and with great formality demanded the daughter in marriage.
The good lady, who was a very notable woman, behaved with great state and civility, thanked me for the honour I intended her family, and said she did not doubt that I was in all respects qualified to make a woman happy; but it concerned her, as a parent anxious about the welfare of her child, to inquire into the particulars of my fortune, and to know what settlement I proposed to make. To this intimation, which would have utterly disconcerted me if I had not expected it, I replied without hesitation that though my fortune was very small, I was a gentleman by birth and education, would maintain her daughter in the sphere of a gentlewoman, and settle her own dowry on her and her heirs for ever. This careful matron did not seem to relish my proposal, but observed with a demure countenance that there was no necessity for settling that upon her child which was her own already. However, if I pleased, her lawyer should confer with mine upon the matter; and in the mean time she desired I would favour her with the perusal of my rent-roll. Notwithstanding the vexation I was under, I could scarce forbear laughing in her face at mention of my rent-roll, which was indeed a severe piece of satire upon my pretensions. I frankly owned I had no landed estate, and told her that I could not exactly specify the sum I was master of until I had regulated my affairs, which were at present in some disorder, but that I would take an opportunity of satisfying her on that head very soon.
It was not long before I took my leave and returned to my lodgings in a very melancholy mood, persuaded that I had nothing more to expect from that quarter. I was confirmed in this opinion next day, when I went back with a view of explaining myself more fully to the old gentlewoman, and was told by the footman that his ladies were not at home, although I had seen Melinda through the blinds at a parlour window as I went up to the door. Incensed at this affront, I quitted the door without saying one word and, as I re-passed the parlour, bowed to Miss who still remained in the same situation, securely screened as she thought from my view.
This disappointment gave me more uneasiness on Strap's account than my own, for I was in no danger of dying for love of Melinda; on the contrary, the remembrance of my charming Narcissa was a continual check upon my conscience during the whole course of my addresses, and perhaps contributed to the bad success of my scheme by controlling my raptures and condemning my design.
There was a necessity for informing my companion of everything that happened to me, and I performed this piece of duty in an affected passion, swearing I would be his pack-horse no longer, and desiring him to take the management of his affairs into his own hands. This finesse had the desired effect for, instead of grumbling over my miscarriage, Strap was frightened at the passion I feigned, and begged me for the love of God to be appeased, observing that although we had suffered a great loss it was not irreparable, and if Fortune frowned today she might perhaps smile tomorrow. I pretended to acquiesce in his remarks, praised his equanimity, and promised to improve by misfortune. He, on the other hand, pretended to be perfectly well satisfied with my conduct, and conjured me to follow the dictates of my own reflection; but in spite of all his affectation, I could perceive his inward affliction, and his visage sensibly increased in longitude from that day.
In the mean time, my attention was wholly engrossed in search of another mistress, and the desire of being revenged on Melinda; in both which schemes I was very much assisted by Billy Chatter, who was such a necessary creature among the ladies that in all private dances he engaged the men. To him therefore I applied, desiring be would introduce me to a partner of some figure at the next private assembly for the sake of a frolic, the intention of which I would afterwards communicate. Billy, who had heard something of a difference between Melinda and me, immediately smoked part of my design, and, thinking I only wanted to alarm her jealousy a little, promised to gratify my desire by matching me with a partner worth thirty thousand pounds, whom the ladies at this end of the town had lately taken into their management and protection.
Upon further inquiry, I found this person's name was Miss Biddy Gripewell; that her father, who had been a pawnbroker, died intestate, by which means all his substance descended to his daughter who was so little a favourite that, could the old man have prevailed with his own rapacious disposition to part with as much money as would have paid the expense of a will, she would not have inherited a sixth part of his fortune; that, during his life, far from being educated in a way suitable to such great expectations, she was obliged to live like a servant wench and do the most menial offices in the family. But his funeral was no sooner performed than she assumed the fine lady, and found so many people of both sexes to flatter, caress and instruct her that for want of discretion and experience she was grown insufferably vain and arrogant, and pretended to no less than a duke, or earl at least, for her husband; that she had the misfortune to be neglected by the English quality, but a certain poor Scottish lord was then making interest to he introduced to her acquaintance. In the mean time, she was fallen into the hands of a notable lady who had already disposed of her to a lieutenant of foot, a distant relation of her ladyship's, though Miss as yet knew nothing of the affair; and, lastly, that if I proposed to dance with her, I must give him leave to represent me as a knight, or foreign count at least. I was ravished at this piece of information, and consented for one night to personate a French marquis, that I might the easier fulfil my revenge.
Having made the appointment with Chatter, I went to Banter's lodgings, as I had by this time conceived a great opinion of his penetration and knowledge, and, after I had enjoined secrecy, told him every circumstance of my disgrace with Melinda, and imparted the plan I had projected to mortify that proud coquette, desiring his advice in improving, and assistance in executing the scheme.
Nothing could be more agreeable to his misanthropical temper than an account of her behaviour and my resentment. He applauded my resolution, and proposed that I should not only provide myself with a proper partner but also procure such a one for Miss Goosetrap as should infallibly entail upon her the ridicule of all her acquaintance. For this purpose, he mentioned his barber who, he said, was an exceeding coxcomb lately come from Paris, whose absurd affectation and grimace would easily pass upon her for the sprightly politeness of a gentleman improved by travel. I hugged him for this hint; and he assured me it would be no difficult matter to make him believe that Melinda, having seen him by accident, was captivated by his appearance and longed for his acquaintance. He actually engaged him on this pretence, and painted his good fortune in such colours that the poor shaver was quite beside himself with joy. He was immediately fitted with a tawdry suit of clothes belonging to Banter, and by him recommended to Chatter as a very pretty fellow just returned from his travels. Master Billy, who acted as gentleman-usher to a great many of the fair sex in and about town, undertook at once to bespeak Melinda in his behalf, and everything happened to my wish.
At the time appointed I appeared dressed to the best advantage, and in the character of marquis had the honour of opening the ball with the rich heiress, who attracted the eyes of the whole company by the prodigious number of jewels with which she was adorned. Among others I perceived Melinda, who could no more conceal her envy than astonishment at my success; her curiosity was still more flagrant and tormenting for she had never seen Miss Gripewell before, and Chatter, who alone could give her any satisfaction on that head, was engaged in conversation at the other end of the room. I observed her impatience and exulted in her chagrin, and, after my partner was set, took the opportunity of passing by her to make a slight bow without stopping, which completed my triumph and her indignation. She changed colour, bridled up, assumed an air of disdain, and flirted her fan with such a fury that it went to pieces in a moment, to the no small entertainment of those who sat near and observed her.
At length the metamorphosed barber took her out, and acted his part with such ridiculous extravagance that the mirth of the whole company was excited at his expense, and his partner so much ashamed that before the country-dances began she retired in great confusion, under pretence of being taken suddenly ill, and was followed by her gallant who, no doubt, imagined her indisposition was nothing but love, and laid hold of the occasion of conducting her home to comfort her with an assurance of his entertaining a reciprocal passion.
They were no sooner gone than an inquisitive whisper of 'Who is he?' ran round the room, and Chatter could give them no other intelligence about him than he was a man of fortune just returned from his travels. I, who alone was acquainted with his real quality, affected ignorance, well knowing that female curiosity would not rest satisfied with such a general account, and that the discovery would proceed with a better grace from anybody than me.
As I expected, everything came to light next day. The barber, in pure simplicity of heart, detected himself to Melinda, and discovered the foundation of his hopes; she sickened at the affront and was ashamed to show her face in public for many weeks after this accident. Poor Chatter found it impossible to justify himself to her satisfaction, and was in utter disgrace with Miss Gripewell for having imposed me upon her as a nobleman, and suffered very much in his character and influence among the ladies in general.