Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 50

Wish fulfilled — Extraordinary figure — Bueno — Noah — The two faces — I don’t blame him — Too fond of money — Were I an Armenian.

The fulfilment of the Armenian’s grand wish was nearer at hand than either he or I had anticipated. Partly owing to the success of a bold speculation, in which he had some time previously engaged, and partly owing to the bequest of a large sum of money by one of his nation who died at this period in Paris, he found himself in the possession of a fortune somewhat exceeding two hundred thousand pounds; this fact he communicated to me one evening about an hour after the close of ‘Change; the hour at which I generally called, and at which I mostly found him at home.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘and what do you intend to do next?’

‘I scarcely know,’ said the Armenian. ‘I was thinking of that when you came in. I don’t see anything that I can do, save going on in my former course. After all, I was perhaps too moderate in making the possession of two hundred thousand pounds the summit of my ambition; there are many individuals in this town who possess three times that sum, and are not yet satisfied. No, I think I can do no better than pursue the old career; who knows but I may make the two hundred thousand three or four? — there is already a surplus, which is an encouragement; however, we will consider the matter over a goblet of wine; I have observed of late that you have become partial to my Cyprus.’

And it came to pass that, as we were seated over the Cyprus wine, we heard a knock at the door. ‘Adelante!’ cried the Armenian; whereupon the door opened, and in walked a somewhat extraordinary figure — a man in a long loose tunic of a stuff striped with black and yellow; breeches of plush velvet, silk stockings, and shoes with silver buckles. On his head he wore a high-peaked hat; he was tall, had a hooked nose, and in age was about fifty.

‘Welcome, Rabbi Manasseh,’ said the Armenian. ‘I know your knock — you are welcome; sit down.’

‘I am welcome,’ said Manasseh, sitting down; ‘he — he — he! you know my knock — I bring you money — bueno!’

There was something very peculiar in the sound of that bueno — I never forgot it.

Thereupon a conversation ensued between Rabbi Manasseh and the Armenian, in a language which I knew to be Spanish, though a peculiar dialect. It related to a mercantile transaction. The Rabbi sighed heavily as he delivered to the other a considerable sum of money.

‘It is right,’ said the Armenian, handing a receipt. ‘It is right; and I am quite satisfied.’

‘You are satisfied — you have taken money. Bueno, I have nothing to say against your being satisfied.’

‘Come, Rabbi,’ said the Armenian, ‘do not despond; it may be your turn next to take money; in the meantime, can’t you be persuaded to taste my Cyprus?’

‘He — he — he! senor, you know I do not love wine. I love Noah when he is himself; but, as Janus, I love him not. But you are merry; bueno, you have a right to be so.’

‘Excuse me,’ said I; ‘but does Noah ever appear as Janus?’

‘He — he — he!’ said the Rabbi, ‘he only appeared as Janus once — una vez quando estuvo borracho; which means — ’

‘I understand,’ said I; ‘when he was . . . ’ and I drew the side of my right hand sharply across my left wrist.

‘Are you one of our people?’ said the Rabbi.

‘No,’ said I, ‘I am one of the Goyim; but I am only half enlightened. Why should Noah be Janus when he was in that state?’

‘He — he — he! you must know that in Lasan akhades wine is janin.’

‘In Armenian, kini,’ said I; ‘in Welsh, gwin; Latin, vinum; but do you think that Janus and janin are one?’

‘Do I think? Don’t the commentators say so? Does not Master Leo Abarbenel say so in his Dialogues of Divine Love’?

‘But,’ said I, ‘I always thought that Janus was a god of the ancient Romans, who stood in a temple open in time of war, and shut in time of peace; he was represented with two faces, which — which — ‘

‘He — he — he!’ said the Rabbi, rising from his seat; ‘he had two faces, had he? And what did those two faces typify? You do not know; no, nor did the Romans who carved him with two faces know why they did so; for they were only half enlightened, like you and the rest of the Goyim. Yet they were right in carving him with two faces looking from each other — they were right, though they knew not why; there was a tradition among them that the Janinoso had two faces, but they knew not that one was for the world which was gone and the other for the world before him — for the drowned world and for the present, as Master Leo Abarbenel says in his Dialogues of Divine Love. He — he — he!’ continued the Rabbi, who had by this time advanced to the door, and, turning round, waved the two forefingers of his right hand in our faces; ‘the Goyims and Epicouraiyim are clever men, they know how to make money better than we of Israel. My good friend there is a clever man, I bring him money, he never brought me any; bueno, I do not blame him, he knows much, very much; but one thing there is my friend does not know, nor any of the Epicureans, he does not know the sacred thing — he has never received the gift of interpretation which God alone gives to the seed — he has his gift, I have mine — he is satisfied, I don’t blame him, bueno.’

And, with this last word in his mouth, he departed.

‘Is that man a native of Spain?’ I demanded.

‘Not a native of Spain,’ said the Armenian, ‘though he is one of those who call themselves Spanish Jews, and who are to be found scattered throughout Europe, speaking the Spanish language transmitted to them by their ancestors, who were expelled from Spain in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella.’

‘The Jews are a singular people,’ said I.

‘A race of cowards and dastards,’ said the Armenian, ‘without a home or country; servants to servants; persecuted and despised by all.’

‘And what are the Haiks?’ I demanded.

‘Very different from the Jews,’ replied the Armenian; ‘the Haiks have a home — a country, and can occasionally use a good sword; though it is true they are not what they might be.’

‘Then it is a shame that they do not become so,’ said I; ‘but they are too fond of money. There is yourself, with two hundred thousand pounds in your pocket, craving for more, whilst you might be turning your wealth to the service of your country.’

‘In what manner?’ said the Armenian.

‘I have heard you say that the grand oppressor of your country is the Persian; why not attempt to free your country from his oppression — you have two hundred thousand pounds, and money is the sinew of war?’

‘Would you, then, have me attack the Persian?’

‘I scarcely know what to say; fighting is a rough trade, and I am by no means certain that you are calculated for the scratch. It is not every one who has been brought up in the school of Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno. All I can say is, that if I were an Armenian, and had two hundred thousand pounds to back me, I would attack the Persian.’

‘Hem!’ said the Armenian.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/lavengro/chapter50.html

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