Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Roderick is “Pressed” into the Navy
By Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771)
From ‘Roderick Random’

I SAW no resource but the army or navy; between which I hesitated so long that I found myself reduced to a starving condition. My spirit began to accommodate itself to my beggarly fate, and I became so mean as to go down towards Wapping, with an intention to inquire for an old schoolfellow, who, I understood, had got the command of a small coasting vessel, then in the river, and implore his assistance. But my destiny prevented this abject piece of behavior; for as I crossed Tower Wharf, a squat, tawny fellow, with a hanger by his side and a cudgel in his hand, came up to me, calling, “Yo! ho! brother: you must come along with me!” As I did not like his appearance, instead of answering his salutation I quickened my pace, in hope of ridding myself of his company; upon which he whistled aloud, and immediately another sailor appeared before me, who laid hold of me by the collar and began to drag me along. Not being in a humor to relish such treatment, I disengaged myself of the assailant, and with one blow of my cudgel laid him motionless on the ground; and perceiving myself surrounded in a trice by ten or a dozen more, exerted myself with such dexterity and success that some of my opponents were fain to attack me with drawn cutlasses: and after an obstinate engagement, in which I received a large wound on my head and another on my left cheek, I was disarmed, taken prisoner, and carried on board a pressing-tender; where, after being pinioned like a malefactor, I was thrust down into the hold among a parcel of miserable wretches, the sight of whom well-nigh distracted me. As the commanding officer had not humanity enough to order my wounds to be dressed, and I could not use my own hands, I desired one of my fellow-captives, who was unfettered, to take a handkerchief out of my pocket, and tie it round my head to stop the bleeding. He pulled out my handkerchief, ’tis true; but instead of applying it to the use for which I designed it, went to the grating of the hatchway, and with astonishing composure sold it before my face to a bumboat woman then on board, for a quart of gin, with which he treated my companions, regardless of my circumstances and entreaties.  1
  I complained bitterly of this robbery to the midshipman on deck, telling him at the same time that unless my hurts were dressed I should bleed to death. But compassion was a weakness of which no man could justly accuse this person, who, squirting a mouthful of dissolved tobacco upon me through the gratings, told me “I was a mutinous dog, and that I might die and be d—d.” Finding there was no other remedy, I appealed to patience, and laid up this usage in my memory, to be recalled at a fitter season. In the mean time, loss of blood, vexation, and want of food, contributed with the noisome stench of the place to throw me into a swoon; out of which I was recovered by a tweak of the nose, administered by the tar who stood sentinel over us, who at the same time regaled me with a draught of flip, and comforted me with the hopes of being put on board the Thunder next day, where I should be freed of my handcuffs, and cured of my wounds by the doctor. I no sooner heard him name the Thunder, than I asked if he had belonged to that ship long? and he giving me to understand he had belonged to her five years, I inquired if he knew Lieutenant Bowling? “Know Lieutenant Bowling?” said he, “odds my life! and that I do: and a good seaman he is as ever stepped upon forecastle; and a brave fellow as ever cracked biscuit: none of your guinea-pigs, nor your fresh-water, wishy-washy, fair-weather fowls. Many a tough gale of wind has honest Tom Bowling and I weathered together. Here’s his health with all my heart, wherever he is, aloft or alow; in heaven or in hell; all’s one for that—he needs not be ashamed to show himself.” I was so much affected with this eulogium that I could not refrain from telling him that I was Lieutenant Bowling’s kinsman; in consequence of which connection he expressed an inclination to serve me; and when he was relieved, brought some cold boiled beef in a platter, and biscuit, on which we supped plentifully, and afterwards drank another can of flip together.  2
  While we were thus engaged, he recounted a great many exploits of my uncle, who I found was very much beloved by the ship’s company, and pitied for the misfortune that had happened to him in Hispaniola, which I was very glad to be informed was not so great as I imagined; for Captain Oakum had recovered of his wounds, and actually at that time commanded the ship. Having by accident in my pocket my uncle’s letter, written from Port Louis, I gave it to my benefactor (whose name was Jack Rattlin) for his perusal; but honest Jack told me frankly he could not read, and desired to know the contents,—which I immediately communicated. When he heard that part of it in which he says he had written to his landlord in Deal, he cried,—“Body o’ me! that was old Ben Block: he was dead before the letter came to hand. Ey, ey, had Ben been alive, Lieutenant Bowling would have had no occasion to skulk so long. Honest Ben was the first man that taught him to hand, reef, and steer.—Well, well, we must all die, that’s certain; we must all come to port sooner or later, at sea or on shore; we must be fast moored one day; death’s like the best bower-anchor, as the saying is,—it will bring us all up.”  3
  I could not but signify my approbation of the justness of Jack’s reflections; and inquired into the occasion of the quarrel between Captain Oakum and my uncle, which he explained in this manner. “Captain Oakum, to be sure, is a good man enough; besides, he’s my commander: but what’s that to me? I do my duty, and value no man’s anger of a rope’s-end. Now the report goes as how he’s a lord, or baron-knight’s brother, whereby, d’ye see me, he carries a straight arm, and keeps aloof from his officers, thof mayhap they may be as good men in the main as he. Now, we lying at anchor in Tuberoon Bay, Lieutenant Bowling had the middle watch: and as he always kept a good lookout, he made, d’ye see, three lights in the offing, whereby he ran down to the great cabin for orders, and found the captain asleep; whereupon he waked him, which put him in a main high passion, and he swore woundily at the lieutenant, and called him swab and lubber, whereby the lieutenant returned the salute, and they jawed together, fore and aft, a good spell, till at last the captain turned out, and laying hold of a rattan, came athwart Mr. Bowling’s quarter; whereby he told the captain that if he was not his commander he would heave him overboard, and demanded satisfaction ashore; whereby in the morning watch the captain went ashore in the pinnace, and afterwards the lieutenant carried the cutter ashore; and so they, leaving the boats’ crews on their oars, went away together; and so, d’ye see, in less than a quarter of an hour we heard firing, whereby we made for the place, and found the captain lying wounded on the beach, and so brought him on board to the doctor, who cured him in less than six weeks. But the lieutenant clapped on all the sail he could bear, and had got far enough ahead before we knew anything of the matter, so that we could never after get sight of him; for which we were not sorry, because the captain was mainly wroth, and would certainly have done him a mischief; for he afterwards caused him to be run on the ship’s books, whereby he lost all his pay, and if he should be taken would be tried as a deserter.”  4
  This account of the captain’s behavior gave me no advantageous idea of his character; and I could not help lamenting my own fate, that had subjected me to such a commander. However, making a virtue of necessity, I put a good face on the matter, and next day was, with the other pressed men, put on board the Thunder, lying at the Nore. When we came alongside, the mate who guarded us thither ordered my handcuffs to be taken off, that I might get on board the easier. This circumstance being perceived by some of the company who stood upon the gang-boards to see us enter, one of them called to Jack Rattlin, who was busy in doing this friendly office for me,—“Hey, Jack, what Newgate galley have you boarded in the river as you came along? have we not thieves enow among us already?” Another, observing my wounds which remained exposed to the air, told me my seams were uncalked, and that I must be new payed. A third, seeing my hair clotted together with blood, as it were, into distinct cords, took notice that my bows were manned with the red ropes instead of my side. A fourth asked me if I could not keep my yards square without iron braces? And in short, a thousand witticisms of the same nature were passed upon me before I could get up the ship’s side. After we had been all entered upon the ship’s books, I inquired of one of my shipmates where the surgeon was, that I might have my wounds dressed; and had actually got as far as the middle deck—for our ship carried eighty guns—in my way to the cockpit, when I was met by the same midshipman who had used me so barbarously in the tender. He, seeing me free from my chains, asked with an insolent air who had released me?  5
  To this question I foolishly answered, with a countenance that too plainly declared the state of my thoughts, “Whoever did it, I am persuaded, did not consult you in the affair.” I had no sooner uttered these words, than he cried, “You ——, I’ll teach you to talk so to your officer.” So saying, he bestowed on me several stripes with a supple-jack he had in his hand; and going to the commanding officer, made such a report of me that I was immediately put in irons by the master-at-arms, and a sentinel placed over me. Honest Rattlin, as soon as he heard of my condition, came to me, and administered all the consolation he could; and then went to the surgeon in my behalf, who sent one of his mates to dress my wounds.  6
  This mate was no other than my old friend Thompson, with whom I became acquainted at the navy office, as before mentioned. If I knew him at first sight, it was not easy for him to recognize me, disfigured with blood and dirt, and altered by the misery I had undergone. Unknown as I was to him, he surveyed me with looks of compassion; and handled my sores with great tenderness. When he had applied what he thought proper, and was about to leave me, I asked him if my misfortunes had disguised me so much that he could not recollect my face? Upon this address, he observed me with great earnestness for some time, and at length protested that he could not recollect one feature of my countenance. To keep him no longer in suspense, I told him my name: which when he heard, he embraced me with affection, and professed his sorrow at seeing me in such a disagreeable situation. I made him acquainted with my story; and when he heard how inhumanly I had been used in the tender, he left me abruptly, assuring me I should see him again soon. I had scarce time to wonder at his sudden departure, when the master-at-arms came to the place of my confinement and bade me follow him to the quarter-deck; where I was examined by the first lieutenant, who commanded the ship in the absence of the captain, touching the treatment I had received in the tender from my friend the midshipman, who was present to confront me. I recounted the particulars of his behavior to me, not only in the tender, but since my being on board the ship; part of which being proved by the evidence of Jack Rattlin and others, who had no great devotion for my oppressor, I was discharged from confinement to make way for him, who was delivered to the master-at-arms to take his turn in the bilboes. And this was not the only satisfaction I enjoyed; for I was, at the request of the surgeon, exempted from all other duty than that of assisting his mates in making and administering medicines to the sick. This good office I owed to the friendship of Mr. Thompson, who had represented me in such a favorable light to the surgeon that he demanded me of the lieutenant to supply the place of his third mate, who was lately dead.  7

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.