Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 100

Nothing but gloom — Sporting character — Gouty Tory — Servants’ Club — Politics — Reformado footman — Peroration — Good-night.

‘We arrived in England, and went to our country seat, but the peace and tranquillity of the family had been marred, and I no longer found my place the pleasant one which it had formerly been; there was nothing but gloom in the house, for the youngest daughter exhibited signs of lunacy, and was obliged to be kept under confinement. The next season I attended my master, his son, and eldest daughter to London, as I had previously done. There I left them, for hearing that a young baronet, an acquaintance of the family, wanted a servant, I applied for the place, with the consent of my masters, both of whom gave me a strong recommendation; and, being approved of, I went to live with him.

‘My new master was what is called a sporting character, very fond of the turf, upon which he was not very fortunate. He was frequently very much in want of money, and my wages were anything but regularly paid; nevertheless, I liked him very much, for he treated me more like a friend than a domestic, continually consulting me as to his affairs. At length he was brought nearly to his last shifts, by backing the favourite at the Derby, which favourite turned out a regular brute, being found nowhere at the rush. Whereupon, he and I had a solemn consultation over fourteen glasses of brandy and water, and as many cigars — I mean, between us — as to what was to be done. He wished to start a coach, in which event he was to be driver, and I guard. He was quite competent to drive a coach, being a first-rate whip, and I daresay I should have made a first-rate guard; but, to start a coach requires money, and we neither of us believed that anybody would trust us with vehicles and horses, so that idea was laid aside. We then debated as to whether or not he should go into the Church; but to go into the Church — at any rate to become a dean or bishop, which would have been our aim — it is necessary for a man to possess some education; and my master, although he had been at the best school in England, that is, the most expensive, and also at College, was almost totally illiterate, so we let the Church scheme follow that of the coach. At last, bethinking me that he was tolerably glib at the tongue, as most people are who are addicted to the turf, also a great master of slang; remembering also that he had a crabbed old uncle, who had some borough interest, I proposed that he should get into the House, promising in one fortnight to qualify him to make a figure in it, by certain lessons which I would give him. He consented; and during the next fortnight I did little else than give him lessons in elocution, following to a tittle the method of the great professor, which I had picked up, listening behind the door. At the end of that period we paid a visit to his relation, an old gouty Tory, who at first received us very coolly. My master, however, by flattering a predilection of his for Billy Pitt, soon won his affections so much that he promised to bring him into Parliament; and in less than a month was as good as his word. My master, partly by his own qualifications, and partly by the assistance which he had derived, and still occasionally derived, from me, cut a wonderful figure in the House, and was speedily considered one of the most promising speakers; he was always a good hand at promising — he is at present, I believe, a Cabinet minister.

‘But as he got up in the world he began to look down on me. I believe he was ashamed of the obligation under which he lay to me; and at last, requiring no further hints as to oratory from a poor servant like me, he took an opportunity of quarrelling with me and discharging me. However, as he had still some grace, he recommended me to a gentleman with whom, since he had attached himself to politics, he had formed an acquaintance, the editor of a grand Tory Review. I lost caste terribly amongst the servants for entering the service of a person connected with a profession so mean as literature; and it was proposed at the Servants’ Club, in Park Lane, to eject me from that society. The proposition, however, was not carried into effect, and I was permitted to show myself among them, though few condescended to take much notice of me. My master was one of the best men in the world, but also one of the most sensitive. On his veracity being impugned by the editor of a newspaper, he called him out, and shot him through the arm. Though servants are seldom admirers of their masters, I was a great admirer of mine, and eager to follow his example. The day after the encounter, on my veracity being impugned by the servant of Lord C— in something I said in praise of my master, I determined to call him out; so I went into another room and wrote a challenge. But whom should I send it by? Several servants to whom I applied refused to be the bearers of it; they said I had lost caste, and they could not think of going out with me. At length the servant of the Duke of B— consented to take it; but he made me to understand that, though he went out with me, he did so merely because he despised the Whiggish principles of Lord C-‘s servant, and that if I thought he intended to associate with me I should be mistaken. Politics, I must tell you, at that time ran as high amongst the servants as the gentlemen, the servants, however, being almost invariably opposed to the politics of their respective masters, though both parties agreed in one point, the scouting of everything low and literary, though I think, of the two, the liberal or reform party were the most inveterate. So he took my challenge, which was accepted; we went out, Lord C-‘s servant being seconded by a reformado footman from the palace. We fired three times without effect; but this affair lost me my place; my master on hearing it forthwith discharged me; he was, as I have said before, very sensitive, and he said this duel of mine was a parody of his own. Being, however, one of the best men in the world, on his discharging me he made me a donation of twenty pounds.

‘And it was well that he made me this present, for without it I should have been penniless, having contracted rather expensive habits during the time that I lived with the young baronet. I now determined to visit my parents, whom I had not seen for years. I found them in good health, and, after staying with them for two months, I returned again in the direction of town, walking, in order to see the country. On the second day of my journey, not being used to such fatigue, I fell ill at a great inn on the north road, and there I continued for some weeks till I recovered, but by that time my money was entirely spent. By living at the inn I had contracted an acquaintance with the master and the people, and become accustomed to inn life. As I thought that I might find some difficulty in procuring any desirable situation in London, owing to my late connection with literature, I determined to remain where I was, provided my services would be accepted. I offered them to the master, who, finding I knew something of horses, engaged me as a postilion. I have remained there since. You have now heard my story.

‘Stay, you shan’t say that I told my tale without a per — peroration. What shall it be? Oh, I remember something which will serve for one. As I was driving my chaise some weeks ago, I saw standing at the gate of an avenue, which led up to an old mansion, a figure which I thought I recognised. I looked at it attentively, and the figure, as I passed, looked at me; whether it remembered me I do not know, but I recognised the face it showed me full well.

‘If it was not the identical face of the red-haired priest whom I had seen at Rome, may I catch cold!

‘Young gentleman, I will now take a spell on your blanket — young lady, good-night.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32