Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 42

Francis Ardry — That won’t do, sir — Observe my gestures — I think you improve — Better than politics — Delightful young Frenchwoman — A burning shame — Magnificent impudence — Paunch — Voltaire — Lump of sugar.

Occasionally I called on Francis Ardry. This young gentleman resided in handsome apartments in the neighbourhood of a fashionable square, kept a livery servant, and, upon the whole, lived in very good style. Going to see him one day, between one and two, I was informed by the servant that his master was engaged for the moment, but that, if I pleased to wait a few minutes, I should find him at liberty. Having told the man that I had no objection, he conducted me into a small apartment which served as antechamber to a drawing-room; the door of this last being half open, I could see Francis Ardry at the farther end, speechifying and gesticulating in a very impressive manner. The servant, in some confusion, was hastening to close the door; but, ere he could effect his purpose, Francis Ardry, who had caught a glimpse of me, exclaimed, ‘Come in-come in by all means’; and then proceeded, as before, speechifying and gesticulating. Filled with some surprise, I obeyed his summons.

On entering the room I perceived another individual, to whom Francis Ardry appeared to be addressing himself; this other was a short spare man of about sixty; his hair was of badger gray, and his face was covered with wrinkles — without vouchsafing me a look, he kept his eye, which was black and lustrous, fixed full on Francis Ardry, as if paying the deepest attention to his discourse. All of a sudden, however, he cried with a sharp, cracked voice, ‘That won’t do, sir; that won’t do — more vehemence — your argument is at present particularly weak; therefore, more vehemence — you must confuse them, stun them, stultify them, sir’; and, at each of these injunctions, he struck the back of his right hand sharply against the palm of the left. ‘Good, sir — good!’ he occasionally uttered, in the same sharp, cracked tone, as the voice of Francis Ardry became more and more vehement. ‘Infinitely good!’ he exclaimed, as Francis Ardry raised his voice to the highest pitch; ‘and now, sir, abate; let the tempest of vehemence decline — gradually, sir; not too fast. Good, sir — very good!’ as the voice of Francis Ardry declined gradually in vehemence. ‘And now a little pathos, sir — try them with a little pathos. That won’t do, sir — that won’t do,’ — as Francis Ardry made an attempt to become pathetic, — ‘that will never pass for pathos — with tones and gesture of that description you will never redress the wrongs of your country. Now, sir, observe my gestures, and pay attention to the tone of my voice, sir.’

Thereupon, making use of nearly the same terms which Francis Ardry had employed, the individual in black uttered several sentences in tones and with gestures which were intended to express a considerable degree of pathos, though it is possible that some people would have thought both the one and the other highly ludicrous. After a pause, Francis Ardry recommenced imitating the tones and the gestures of his monitor in the most admirable manner. Before he had proceeded far, however, he burst into a fit of laughter, in which I should, perhaps, have joined, provided it were ever my wont to laugh. ‘Ha, ha!’ said the other, good-humouredly, ‘you are laughing at me. Well, well, I merely wished to give you a hint; but you saw very well what I meant; upon the whole I think you improve. But I must now go, having two other pupils to visit before four.’

Then taking from the table a kind of three-cornered hat, and a cane headed with amber, he shook Francis Ardry by the hand; and, after glancing at me for a moment, made me a half bow, attended with a strange grimace, and departed.

‘Who is that gentleman?’ said I to Francis Ardry, as soon as were alone.

‘Oh, that is — ’ said Frank, smiling, ‘the gentleman who gives me lessons in elocution.’

‘And what need have you of elocution?’

‘Oh, I merely obey the commands of my guardians,’ said Francis, ‘who insist that I should, with the assistance of — qualify myself for Parliament; for which they do me the honour to suppose that I have some natural talent. I dare not disobey them; for, at the present moment, I have particular reasons for wishing to keep on good terms with them.’

‘But,’ said I, ‘you are a Roman Catholic; and I thought that persons of your religion were excluded from Parliament?’

‘Why, upon that very thing the whole matter hinges; people of our religion are determined to be no longer excluded from Parliament, but to have a share in the government of the nation. Not that I care anything about the matter; I merely obey the will of my guardians; my thoughts are fixed on something better than politics.’

‘I understand you,’ said I; ‘dog-fighting — well, I can easily conceive that to some minds dog-fighting — ’

‘I was not thinking of dog-fighting,’ said Francis Ardry, interrupting me.

‘Not thinking of dog-fighting!’ I ejaculated.

‘No,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘something higher and much more rational than dog-fighting at present occupies my thoughts.’

‘Dear me,’ said I, ‘I thought I had heard you say that there was nothing like it!’

‘Like what?’ said Francis Ardry.

‘Dog-fighting, to be sure,’ said I.

‘Pooh,’ said Francis Ardry; ‘who but the gross and unrefined care anything for dog-fighting? That which at present engages my waking and sleeping thoughts is love — divine love — there is nothing like THAT. Listen to me, I have a secret to confide to you.’

And then Francis Ardry proceeded to make me his confidant. It appeared that he had had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the most delightful young Frenchwoman imaginable, Annette La Noire by name, who had just arrived from her native country with the intention of obtaining the situation of governess in some English family; a position which, on account of her many accomplishments, she was eminently qualified to fill. Francis Ardry had, however, persuaded her to relinquish her intention for the present, on the ground that, until she had become acclimated in England, her health would probably suffer from the confinement inseparable from the occupation in which she was desirous of engaging; he had, moreover — for it appeared that she was the most frank and confiding creature in the world — succeeded in persuading her to permit him to hire for her a very handsome first floor in his own neighbourhood, and to accept a few inconsiderable presents in money and jewellery. ‘I am looking out for a handsome gig and horse,’ said Francis Ardry, at the conclusion of his narration; ‘it were a burning shame that so divine a creature should have to go about a place like London on foot, or in a paltry hackney coach.’

‘But,’ said I, ‘will not the pursuit of politics prevent your devoting much time to this fair lady?’

‘It will prevent me devoting all my time,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘as I gladly would; but what can I do? My guardians wish me to qualify myself for a political orator, and I dare not offend them by a refusal. If I offend my guardians, I should find it impossible — unless I have recourse to Jews and money-lenders — to support Annette; present her with articles of dress and jewellery, and purchase a horse and cabriolet worthy of conveying her angelic person through the streets of London.’

After a pause, in which Francis Ardry appeared lost in thought, his mind being probably occupied with the subject of Annette, I broke silence by observing, ‘So your fellow-religionists are really going to make a serious attempt to procure their emancipation?’

‘Yes,’ said Francis Ardry, starting from his reverie; ‘everything has been arranged; even a leader has been chosen, at least for us of Ireland, upon the whole the most suitable man in the world for the occasion — a barrister of considerable talent, mighty voice, and magnificent impudence. With emancipation, liberty, and redress for the wrongs of Ireland in his mouth, he is to force his way into the British House of Commons, dragging myself and others behind him — he will succeed, and when he is in he will cut a figure; I have heard — himself, who has heard him speak, say that he will cut a figure.’

‘And is — competent to judge?’ I demanded.

‘Who but he?’ said Francis Ardry; ‘no one questions his judgment concerning what relates to elocution. His fame on that point is so well established, that the greatest orators do not disdain occasionally to consult him; C— himself, as I have been told, when anxious to produce any particular effect in the House, is in the habit of calling in-for a consultation.’

‘As to matter, or manner?’ said I.

‘Chiefly the latter,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘though he is competent to give advice as to both, for he has been an orator in his day, and a leader of the people; though he confessed to me that he was not exactly qualified to play the latter part — “I want paunch,” said he.’

‘It is not always indispensable,’ said I; ‘there is an orator in my town, a hunchback and watchmaker, without it, who not only leads the people, but the mayor too; perhaps he has a succedaneum in his hunch: but, tell me, is the leader of your movement in possession of that which — wants?’

‘No more deficient in it than in brass,’ said Francis Ardry.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘whatever his qualifications may be, I wish him success in the cause which he has taken up — I love religious liberty.’

‘We shall succeed,’ said Francis Ardry; ‘John Bull upon the whole is rather indifferent on the subject, and then we are sure to be backed by the Radical party, who, to gratify their political prejudices, would join with Satan himself.’

‘There is one thing,’ said I, ‘connected with this matter which surprises me — your own lukewarmness. Yes, making every allowance for your natural predilection for dog-fighting, and your present enamoured state of mind, your apathy at the commencement of such a movement is to me unaccountable.’

‘You would not have cause to complain of my indifference,’ said Frank, ‘provided I thought my country would be benefited by this movement; but I happen to know the origin of it. The priests are the originators, ‘and what country was ever benefited by a movement which owed its origin to them?’ so says Voltaire, a page of whom I occasionally read. By the present move they hope to increase their influence, and to further certain designs which they entertain both with regard to this country and Ireland. I do not speak rashly or unadvisedly. A strange fellow — a half-Italian, half-English priest, — who was recommended to me by my guardians, partly as a spiritual, partly as a temporal guide, has let me into a secret or two; he is fond of a glass of gin and water — and over a glass of gin and water cold, with a lump of sugar in it, he has been more communicative, perhaps, than was altogether prudent. Were I my own master, I would kick him, politics, and religious movements, to a considerable distance. And now, if you are going away, do so quickly; I have an appointment with Annette, and must make myself fit to appear before her.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/lavengro/chapter42.html

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