Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 46

The pickpocket — Strange rencounter — Drag him along — A great service — Things of importance — Philological matters — Mother of languages — Zhats!

A few days after the occurrence of what is recorded in the last chapter, as I was wandering in the City, chance directed my footsteps to an alley leading from one narrow street to another in the neighbourhood of Cheapside. Just before I reached the mouth of the alley, a man in a greatcoat, closely followed by another, passed it; and, at the moment in which they were passing, I observed the man behind snatch something from the pocket of the other; whereupon, darting into the street, I seized the hindermost man by the collar, crying at the same time to the other, ‘My good friend, this person has just picked your pocket.’

The individual whom I addressed, turning round with a start, glanced at me, and then at the person whom I held. London is the place for strange rencounters. It appeared to me that I recognised both individuals — the man whose pocket had been picked and the other; the latter now began to struggle violently; ‘I have picked no one’s pocket,’ said he. ‘Rascal,’ said the other, ‘you have got my pocket-book in your bosom.’ ‘No, I have not,’ said the other; and, struggling more violently than before, the pocket-book dropped from his bosom upon the ground.

The other was now about to lay hands upon the fellow, who was still struggling. ‘You had better take up your book,’ said I; ‘I can hold him.’ He followed my advice; and, taking up his pocket-book, surveyed my prisoner with a ferocious look, occasionally glaring at me. Yes, I had seen him before — it was the stranger whom I had observed on London Bridge, by the stall of the old apple-woman, with the cap and cloak; but, instead of these, he now wore a hat and greatcoat. ‘Well,’ said I, at last, ‘what am I to do with this gentleman of ours?’ nodding to the prisoner, who had now left off struggling. ‘Shall I let him go?’

‘Go!’ said the other; ‘go! The knave — the rascal; let him go, indeed! Not so, he shall go before the Lord Mayor. Bring him along.’

‘Oh, let me go,’ said the other: ‘let me go; this is the first offence, I assure ye — the first time I ever thought to do anything wrong.’

‘Hold your tongue,’ said I, ‘or I shall be angry with you. If I am not very much mistaken, you once attempted to cheat me.’

‘I never saw you before in all my life,’ said the fellow, though his countenance seemed to belie his words.

‘That is not true,’ said I; ‘you are the man who attempted to cheat me of one-and-ninepence in the coach-yard, on the first morning of my arrival in London.’

‘I don’t doubt it,’ said the other; ‘a confirmed thief’; and here his tones became peculiarly sharp; ‘I would fain see him hanged — crucified. Drag him along.’

‘I am no constable,’ said I; ‘you have got your pocket-book, — I would rather you would bid me let him go.’

‘Bid you let him go!’ said the other almost furiously, ‘I command — stay, what was I going to say? I was forgetting myself,’ he observed more gently; ‘but he stole my pocket-book; — if you did but know what it contained.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘if it contains anything valuable, be the more thankful that you have recovered it; as for the man, I will help you to take him where you please; but I wish you would let him go.’

The stranger hesitated, and there was an extraordinary play of emotion in his features: he looked ferociously at the pickpocket, and, more than once, somewhat suspiciously at myself; at last his countenance cleared, and, with a good grace, he said, ‘Well, you have done me a great service, and you have my consent to let him go; but the rascal shall not escape with impunity,’ he exclaimed suddenly, as I let the man go, and starting forward, before the fellow could escape, he struck him a violent blow on the face. The man staggered, and had nearly fallen; recovering himself, however, he said, ‘I tell you what, my fellow; if I ever meet you in this street in a dark night, and I have a knife about me, it shall be the worse for you; as for you, young man,’ said he to me; but, observing that the other was making towards him, he left whatever he was about to say unfinished, and, taking to his heels, was out of sight in a moment.

The stranger and myself walked in the direction of Cheapside, the way in which he had been originally proceeding; he was silent for a few moments, at length he said, ‘You have really done me a great service, and I should be ungrateful not to acknowledge it. I am a merchant; and a merchant’s pocket-book, as you perhaps know, contains many things of importance; but, young man,’ he exclaimed, ‘I think I have seen you before; I thought so at first, but where I cannot exactly say: where was it?’ I mentioned London Bridge and the old apple-woman. ‘Oh,’ said he, and smiled, and there was something peculiar in his smile, ‘I remember now. Do you frequently sit on London Bridge?’ ‘Occasionally,’ said I; ‘that old woman is an old friend of mine.’ ‘Friend?’ said the stranger, ‘I am glad of it, for I shall know where to find you. At present I am going to ‘Change; time, you know, is precious to a merchant.’ We were by this time close to Cheapside. ‘Farewell,’ said he, ‘I shall not forget this service. I trust we shall soon meet again.’ He then shook me by the hand and went his way.

The next day, as I was seated beside the old woman in the booth, the stranger again made his appearance, and, after a word or two, sat down beside me; the old woman was sometimes reading the Bible, which she had already had two or three days in her possession, and sometimes discoursing with me. Our discourse rolled chiefly on philological matters.

‘What do you call bread in your language?’ said I.

‘You mean the language of those who bring me things to buy, or who did; for, as I told you before, I shan’t buy any more; it’s no language of mine, dear — they call bread pannam in their language.’

‘Pannam!’ said I, ‘pannam! evidently connected with, if not derived from, the Latin panis; even as the word tanner, which signifieth a sixpence, is connected with, if not derived from, the Latin tener, which is itself connected with, if not derived from, tawno or tawner, which, in the language of Mr. Petulengro, signifieth a sucking child. Let me see, what is the term for bread in the language of Mr. Petulengro? Morro, or manro, as I have sometimes heard it called; is there not some connection between these words and panis? Yes, I think there is; and I should not wonder if morro, manro, and panis were connected, perhaps derived from, the same root; but what is that root? I don’t know — I wish I did; though, perhaps, I should not be the happier. Morro — manro! I rather think morro is the oldest form; it is easier to say morro than manro. Morro! Irish, aran; Welsh, bara; English, bread. I can see a resemblance between all the words, and pannam too; and I rather think that the Petulengrian word is the elder. How odd it would be if the language of Mr. Petulengro should eventually turn out to be the mother of all the languages in the world; yet it is certain that there are some languages in which the terms for bread have no connection with the word used by Mr. Petulengro, notwithstanding that those languages, in many other points, exhibit a close affinity to the language of the horse-shoe master: for example, bread, in Hebrew, is Laham, which assuredly exhibits little similitude to the word used by the aforesaid Petulengro. In Armenian it is — ’

‘Zhats!’ said the stranger, starting up. ‘By the Patriarch and the Three Holy Churches, this is wonderful! How came you to know aught of Armenian?’

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