Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 35

Francis Ardry — Certain sharpers — Brave and eloquent — Opposites — Flinging the bones — Strange places — Dog-fighting — Learning and letters — Batch of dogs — Redoubled application.

One evening I was visited by the tall young gentleman, Francis Ardry, whose acquaintance I had formed at the coffee-house. As it is necessary that the reader should know something more about this young man, who will frequently appear in the course of these pages, I will state in a few words who and what he was. He was born of an ancient Roman Catholic family in Ireland; his parents, whose only child he was, had long been dead. His father, who had survived his mother several years, had been a spendthrift, and at his death had left the family property considerably embarrassed. Happily, however, the son and the estate fell into the hands of careful guardians, near relations of the family, by whom the property was managed to the best advantage, and every means taken to educate the young man in a manner suitable to his expectations. At the age of sixteen he was taken from a celebrated school in England at which he had been placed, and sent to a small French university, in order that he might form an intimate and accurate acquaintance with the grand language of the continent. There he continued three years, at the end of which he went under the care of a French abbe to Germany and Italy. It was in this latter country that he first began to cause his guardians serious uneasiness. He was in the heyday of youth when he visited Italy, and he entered wildly into the various delights of that fascinating region, and, what was worse, falling into the hands of certain sharpers, not Italian, but English, he was fleeced of considerable sums of money. The abbe, who, it seems, was an excellent individual of the old French school, remonstrated with his pupil on his dissipation and extravagance; but, finding his remonstrances vain, very properly informed the guardians of the manner of life of his charge. They were not slow in commanding Francis Ardry home; and, as he was entirely in their power, he was forced to comply. He had been about three months in London when I met him in the coffee-room, and the two elderly gentlemen in his company were his guardians. At this time they were very solicitous that he should choose for himself a profession, offering to his choice either the army or law — he was calculated to shine in either of these professions — for, like many others of his countrymen, he was brave and eloquent; but he did not wish to shackle himself with a profession. As, however, his minority did not terminate till he was three-and-twenty, of which age he wanted nearly two years, during which he would be entirely dependent on his guardians, he deemed it expedient to conceal, to a certain degree, his sentiments, temporising with the old gentlemen, with whom, notwithstanding his many irregularities, he was a great favourite, and at whose death he expected to come into a yet greater property than that which he inherited from his parents.

Such is a brief account of Francis Ardry — of my friend Francis Ardry; for the acquaintance, commenced in the singular manner with which the reader is acquainted, speedily ripened into a friendship which endured through many long years of separation, and which still endures certainly on my part, and on his — if he lives; but it is many years since I have heard from Francis Ardry.

And yet many people would have thought it impossible for our friendship to have lasted a week — for in many respects no two people could be more dissimilar. He was an Irishman — I, an Englishman; — he, fiery, enthusiastic, and open-hearted; I, neither fiery, enthusiastic, nor open-hearted; — he, fond of pleasure and dissipation; I, of study and reflection. Yet it is of such dissimilar elements that the most lasting friendships are formed: we do not like counterparts of ourselves. ‘Two great talkers will not travel far together,’ is a Spanish saying; I will add, ‘Nor two silent people’; we naturally love our opposites.

So Francis Ardry came to see me, and right glad I was to see him, for I had just flung my books and papers aside, and was wishing for a little social converse; and when we had conversed for some little time together, Francis Ardry proposed that we should go to the play to see Kean; so we went to the play, and saw — not Kean, who at that time was ashamed to show himself, but — a man who was not ashamed to show himself, and who people said was a much better man than Kean — as I have no doubt he was — though whether he was a better actor I cannot say, for I never saw Kean.

Two or three evenings after Francis Ardry came to see me again, and again we went out together, and Francis Ardry took me to — shall I say? — why not? — a gaming-house, where I saw people playing, and where I saw Francis Ardry play and lose five guineas, and where I lost nothing, because I did not play, though I felt somewhat inclined; for a man with a white hat and a sparkling eye held up a box which contained something which rattled, and asked me to fling the bones. ‘There is nothing like flinging the bones!’ said he, and then I thought I should like to know what kind of thing flinging the bones was; I, however, restrained myself. ‘There is nothing like flinging the bones!’ shouted the man, as my friend and myself left the room.

Long life and prosperity to Francis Ardry! but for him I should not have obtained knowledge which I did of the strange and eccentric places of London. Some of the places to which he took me were very strange places indeed; but, however strange the places were, I observed that the inhabitants thought there were no places like their several places, and no occupations like their several occupations; and among other strange places to which Francis Ardry conducted me was a place not far from the abbey church of Westminster.

Before we entered this place our ears were greeted by a confused hubbub of human voices, squealing of rats, barking of dogs, and the cries of various other animals. Here we beheld a kind of cock-pit, around which a great many people, seeming of all ranks, but chiefly of the lower, were gathered, and in it we saw a dog destroy a great many rats in a very small period; and when the dog had destroyed the rats, we saw a fight between a dog and a bear, then a fight between two dogs, then. . . .

After the diversions of the day were over, my friend introduced me to the genius of the place, a small man of about five feet high, with a very sharp countenance, and dressed in a brown jockey coat and top boots. ‘Joey,’ said he, ‘this is a friend of mine.’ Joey nodded to me with a patronising air. ‘Glad to see you, sir! — want a dog?’

‘No,’ said I.

‘You have got one, then — want to match him?’

‘We have a dog at home,’ said I, ‘in the country; but I can’t say I should like to match him. Indeed, I do not like dog-fighting.’

‘Not like dog-fighting!’ said the man, staring.

‘The truth is, Joe, that he is just come to town.’

‘So I should think; he looks rather green — not like dog-fighting!’

‘Nothing like it, is there, Joey?’

‘I should think not; what is like it? A time will come, and that speedily, when folks will give up everything else, and follow dog-fighting.’

‘Do you think so?’ said I.

‘Think so? Let me ask what there is that a man wouldn’t give up for it?’

‘Why,’ said I, modestly, ‘there’s religion.’

‘Religion! How you talk. Why, there’s myself bred and born an Independent, and intended to be a preacher, didn’t I give up religion for dog-fighting? Religion, indeed! If it were not for the rascally law, my pit would fill better on Sundays than any other time. Who would go to church when they could come to my pit? Religion! why, the parsons themselves come to my pit; and I have now a letter in my pocket from one of them, asking me to send him a dog.’

‘Well, then, politics,’ said I.

‘Politics! Why, the gemmen in the House would leave Pitt himself, if he were alive, to come to my pit. There were three of the best of them here to-night, all great horators. — Get on with you, what comes next?’

‘Why, there’s learning and letters.’

‘Pretty things, truly, to keep people from dog-fighting. Why, there’s the young gentlemen from the Abbey School comes here in shoals, leaving books, and letters, and masters too. To tell you the truth, I rather wish they would mind their letters, for a more precious set of young blackguards I never seed. It was only the other day I was thinking of calling in a constable for my own protection, for I thought my pit would have been torn down by them.’

Scarcely knowing what to say, I made an observation at random. ‘You show, by your own conduct,’ said I, ‘that there are other things worth following besides dog-fighting. You practise rat-catching and badger-baiting as well.’

The dog-fancier eyed me with supreme contempt.

‘Your friend here,’ said he, ‘might well call you a new one. When I talks of dog-fighting, I of course means rat-catching, and badger-baiting, ay, and bull-baiting too, just as when I speaks religiously, when I says one I means not one but three. And talking of religion puts me in mind that I have something else to do besides chaffing here, having a batch of dogs to send off by this night’s packet to the Pope of Rome.’

But at last I had seen enough of what London had to show, whether strange or commonplace, so at least I thought, and I ceased to accompany my friend in his rambles about town, and to partake of his adventures. Our friendship, however, still continued unabated, though I saw, in consequence, less of him. I reflected that time was passing on — that the little money I had brought to town was fast consuming, and that I had nothing to depend upon but my own exertions for a fresh supply; and I returned with redoubled application to my pursuits.

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