Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 54

Mr. Petulengro — Rommany Rye — Lil-writers — One’s own horn — Lawfully-earnt money — The wooded hill — A great favourite — The shop window — Much wanted.

And, as I wandered along the green, I drew near to a place where several men, with a cask beside them, sat carousing in the neighbourhood of a small tent. ‘Here he comes,’ said one of them, as I advanced, and standing up he raised his voice and sang:-

‘Here the Gypsy gemman see, With his Roman jib and his rome and dree — Rome and dree, rum and dry Rally round the Rommany Rye.’

It was Mr. Petulengro, who was here diverting himself with several of his comrades; they all received me with considerable frankness. ‘Sit down, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘and take a cup of good ale.’

I sat down. ‘Your health, gentlemen,’ said I, as I took the cup which Mr. Petulengro handed to me.

‘Aukko tu pios adrey Rommanis. Here is your health in Rommany, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro; who, having refilled the cup, now emptied it at a draught.

‘Your health in Rommany, brother,’ said Tawno Chikno, to whom the cup came next.

‘The Rommany Rye,’ said a third.

‘The Gypsy gentleman,’ exclaimed a fourth, drinking.

And then they all sang in chorus:-

‘Here the Gypsy gemman see, With his Roman jib and his rome and dree — Rome and dree, rum and dry Rally round the Rommany Rye.’

‘And now, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘seeing that you have drunk and been drunken, you will perhaps tell us where you have been, and what about?’

‘I have been in the Big City,’ said I, ‘writing lils.’

‘How much money have you got in your pocket, brother?’ said Mr. Petulengro.

‘Eighteenpence,’ said I; ‘all I have in the world.’

‘I have been in the Big City, too,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘but I have not written lils — I have fought in the ring — I have fifty pounds in my pocket — I have much more in the world. Brother, there is considerable difference between us.

‘I would rather be the lil-writer, after all,’ said the tall, handsome, black man; ‘indeed, I would wish for nothing better.’

‘Why so?’ said Mr. Petulengro.

‘Because they have so much to say for themselves,’ said the black man, ‘even when dead and gone. When they are laid in the churchyard, it is their own fault if people ain’t talking of them. Who will know, after I am dead, or bitchadey pawdel, that I was once the beauty of the world, or that you Jasper were — ’

‘The best man in England of my inches. That’s true, Tawno — however, here’s our brother will perhaps let the world know something about us.’

‘Not he,’ said the other, with a sigh; ‘he’ll have quite enough to do in writing his own lils, and telling the world how handsome and clever he was; and who can blame him? Not I. If I could write lils, every word should be about myself and my own tacho Rommanis — my own lawful wedded wife, which is the same thing. I tell you what, brother, I once heard a wise man say in Brummagem, that “there is nothing like blowing one’s own horn,” which I conceive to be much the same thing as writing one’s own lil.’

After a little more conversation, Mr. Petulengro arose, and motioned me to follow him. ‘Only eighteenpence in the world, brother?’ said he, as we walked together.

‘Nothing more, I assure you. How came you to ask me how much money I had?’

‘Because there was something in your look, brother, something very much resembling that which a person showeth who does not carry much money in his pocket. I was looking at my own face this morning in my wife’s looking-glass — I did not look as you do, brother.’

‘I believe your sole motive for inquiring,’ said I, ‘was to have an opportunity of venting a foolish boast, and to let me know that you were in possession of fifty pounds.’

‘What is the use of having money unless you let people know you have it?’ said Mr. Petulengro. ‘It is not every one can read faces, brother; and, unless you knew I had money, how could you ask me to lend you any?’

‘I am not going to ask you to lend me any.’

‘Then you may have it without asking; as I said before, I have fifty pounds, all lawfully-earnt money, got by fighting in the ring — I will lend you that, brother.’

‘You are very kind,’ said I; ‘but I will not take it.’

‘Then the half of it?’

‘Nor the half of it; but it is getting towards evening, I must go back to the Great City.’

‘And what will you do in the Boro Foros?’

‘I know not,’ said I.

‘Earn money?

‘If I can.’

‘And if you can’t?’

‘Starve!’

‘You look ill, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro.

‘I do not feel well; the Great City does not agree with me. Should I be so fortunate as to earn some money, I would leave the Big City, and take to the woods and fields.’

‘You may do that, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘whether you have money or not. Our tents and horses are on the other side of yonder wooded hill, come and stay with us; we shall all be glad of your company, but more especially myself and my wife Pakomovna.’

‘What hill is that?’ I demanded.

And then Mr. Petulengro told me the name of the hill. ‘We shall stay on t’other side of the hill a fortnight,’ he continued; ‘and, as you are fond of lil-writing, you may employ yourself profitably whilst there. You can write the lil of him whose dock gallops down that hill every night, even as the living man was wont to do long ago.’

‘Who was he?’ I demanded.

‘Jemmy Abershaw,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘one of those whom we call Boro drom engroes, and the gorgios highway-men. I once heard a rye say that the life of that man would fetch much money; so come to the other side of the hill, and write the lil in the tent of Jasper and his wife Pakomovna.’

At first I felt inclined to accept the invitation of Mr. Petulengro; a little consideration, however, determined me to decline it. I had always been on excellent terms with Mr. Petulengro, but I reflected that people might be excellent friends when they met occasionally in the street, or on the heath, or in the wood; but that these very people when living together in a house, to say nothing of a tent, might quarrel. I reflected, moreover, that Mr. Petulengro had a wife. I had always, it is true, been a great favourite with Mrs. Petulengro, who had frequently been loud in her commendation of the young rye, as she called me, and his turn of conversation; but this was at a time when I stood in need of nothing, lived under my parents’ roof, and only visited at the tents to divert and to be diverted. The times were altered, and I was by no means certain that Mrs. Petulengro, when she should discover that I was in need both of shelter and subsistence, might not alter her opinion both with respect to the individual and what he said — stigmatising my conversation as saucy discourse, and myself as a scurvy companion; and that she might bring over her husband to her own way of thinking, provided, indeed, he should need any conducting. I therefore, though without declaring my reasons, declined the offer of Mr. Petulengro, and presently, after shaking him by the hand, bent again my course towards the Great City.

I crossed the river at a bridge considerably above that hight of London; for, not being acquainted with the way, I missed the turning which should have brought me to the latter. Suddenly I found myself in a street of which I had some recollection, and mechanically stopped before the window of a shop at which various publications were exposed; it was that of the bookseller to whom I had last applied in the hope of selling my ballads or Ab Gwilym, and who had given me hopes that, in the event of my writing a decent novel, or a tale, he would prove a purchaser. As I stood listlessly looking at the window, and the publications which it contained, I observed a paper affixed to the glass by wafers with something written upon it. I drew yet nearer for the purpose of inspecting it; the writing was in a fair round hand — ‘A Novel or Tale is much wanted,’ was what was written.

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