Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 49

Singular personage — A large sum — Papa of Rome — We are Christians — Degenerate Armenians — Roots of Ararat — Regular features.

The Armenian! I frequently saw this individual, availing myself of the permission which he had given me to call upon him. A truly singular personage was he, with his love of amassing money, and his nationality so strong as to be akin to poetry. Many an Armenian I have subsequently known fond of money-getting, and not destitute of national spirit; but never another, who, in the midst of his schemes of lucre, was at all times willing to enter into a conversation on the structure of the Haik language, or who ever offered me money to render into English the fables of Z— in the hope of astonishing the stock-jobbers of the Exchange with the wisdom of the Haik Esop.

But he was fond of money, very fond. Within a little time I had won his confidence to such a degree that he informed me that the grand wish of his heart was to be possessed of two hundred thousand pounds.

‘I think you might satisfy yourself with the half,’ said I. ‘One hundred thousand pounds is a large sum.’

‘You are mistaken,’ said the Armenian, ‘a hundred thousand pounds is nothing. My father left me that or more at his death. No, I shall never be satisfied with less than two.’

‘And what will you do with your riches,’ said I, ‘when you have obtained them? Will you sit down and muse upon them, or will you deposit them in a cellar, and go down once a day to stare at them? I have heard say that the fulfilment of one’s wishes is invariably the precursor of extreme misery, and forsooth I can scarcely conceive a more horrible state of existence than to be without a hope or wish.’

‘It is bad enough, I daresay,’ said the Armenian; ‘it will, however, be time enough to think of disposing of the money when I have procured it. I still fall short by a vast sum of the two hundred thousand pounds.’

I had occasionally much conversation with him on the state and prospects of his nation, especially of that part of it which still continued in the original country of the Haiks — Ararat and its confines, which, it appeared, he had frequently visited. He informed me that since the death of the last Haik monarch, which occurred in the eleventh century, Armenia had been governed both temporally and spiritually by certain personages called patriarchs; their temporal authority, however, was much circumscribed by the Persian and Turk, especially the former, of whom the Armenian spoke with much hatred, whilst their spiritual authority had at various times been considerably undermined by the emissaries of the Papa of Rome, as the Armenian called him.

‘The Papa of Rome sent his emissaries at an early period amongst us,’ said the Armenian, ‘seducing the minds of weak-headed people, persuading them that the hillocks of Rome are higher than the ridges of Ararat; that the Roman Papa has more to say in heaven than the Armenian patriarch, and that puny Latin is a better language than nervous and sonorous Haik.’

‘They are both dialects,’ said I, ‘of the language of Mr. Petulengro, one of whose race I believe to have been the original founder of Rome; but, with respect to religion, what are the chief points of your faith? you are Christians, I believe.’

‘Yes,’ said the Armenian, ‘we are Christians in our way; we believe in God, the Holy Spirit, and Saviour, though we are not prepared to admit that the last personage is not only himself, but the other two. We believe . . . ’ and then the Armenian told me of several things which the Haiks believed or disbelieved. ‘But what we find most hard of all to believe,’ said he, ‘is that the man of the mole-hills is entitled to our allegiance, he not being a Haik, or understanding the Haik language.’

‘But, by your own confession,’ said I, ‘he has introduced a schism in your nation, and has amongst you many that believe in him.’

‘It is true,’ said the Armenian, I that even on the confines of Ararat there are a great number who consider that mountain to be lower than the hillocks of Rome; but the greater number of degenerate Armenians are to be found amongst those who have wandered to the west; most of the Haik churches of the west consider Rome to be higher than Ararat — most of the Armenians of this place hold that dogma; I, however, have always stood firm in the contrary opinion.

‘Ha! ha!’ — here the Armenian laughed in his peculiar manner — ‘talking of this matter puts me in mind of an adventure which lately befell me, with one of the emissaries of the Papa of Rome, for the Papa of Rome has at present many emissaries in this country, in order to seduce the people from their own quiet religion to the savage heresy of Rome; this fellow came to me partly in the hope of converting me, but principally to extort money for the purpose of furthering the designs of Rome in this country. I humoured the fellow at first, keeping him in play for nearly a month, deceiving and laughing at him. At last he discovered that he could make nothing of me, and departed with the scowl of Caiaphas, whilst I cried after him, ‘The roots of Ararat are DEEPER than those of Rome.’

The Armenian had occasionally reverted to the subject of the translation of the Haik Esop, which he had still a lurking desire that I should execute; but I had invariably declined the undertaking, without, however, stating my reasons. On one occasion, when we had been conversing on the subject, the Armenian, who had been observing my countenance for some time with much attention, remarked, ‘Perhaps, after all, you are right, and you might employ your time to better advantage. Literature is a fine thing, especially Haik literature, but neither that nor any other would be likely to serve as a foundation to a man’s fortune: and to make a fortune should be the principal aim of every one’s life; therefore listen to me. Accept a seat at the desk opposite to my Moldavian clerk, and receive the rudiments of a merchant’s education. You shall be instructed in the Armenian way of doing business — I think you would make an excellent merchant.’

‘Why do you think so?’

‘Because you have something of the Armenian look.’

‘I understand you,’ said I; ‘you mean to say that I squint!’

‘Not exactly,’ said the Armenian, ‘but there is certainly a kind of irregularity in your features. One eye appears to me larger than the other — never mind, but rather rejoice; in that irregularity consists your strength. All people with regular features are fools; it is very hard for them, you’ll say, but there is no help: all we can do, who are not in such a predicament, is to pity those who are. Well! will you accept my offer? No! you are a singular individual; but I must not forget my own concerns. I must now go forth, having an appointment by which I hope to make money.’

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