Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 58

Indisposition — A resolution — Poor equivalents — The piece of gold — Flashing eyes — How beautiful — Bon jour, Monsieur.

I had long ago determined to leave London as soon as the means should be in my power, and, now that they were, I determined to leave the Great City; yet I felt some reluctance to go. I would fain have pursued the career of original authorship which had just opened itself to me, and have written other tales of adventure. The bookseller had given me encouragement enough to do so; he had assured me that he should be always happy to deal with me for an article (that was the word) similar to the one I had brought him, provided my terms were moderate; and the bookseller’s wife, by her complimentary language, had given me yet more encouragement. But for some months past I had been far from well, and my original indisposition, brought on partly by the peculiar atmosphere of the Big City, partly by anxiety of mind, had been much increased by the exertions which I had been compelled to make during the last few days. I felt that, were I to remain where I was, I should die, or become a confirmed valetudinarian. I would go forth into the country, travelling on foot, and, by exercise and inhaling pure air, endeavour to recover my health, leaving my subsequent movements to be determined by Providence.

But whither should I bend my course? Once or twice I thought of walking home to the old town, stay some time with my mother and my brother, and enjoy the pleasant walks in the neighbourhood; but, though I wished very much to see my mother and my brother, and felt much disposed to enjoy the said pleasant walks, the old town was not exactly the place to which I wished to go at this present juncture. I was afraid that people would ask, Where are your Northern Ballads? Where are your alliterative translations from Ab Gwilym — of which you were always talking, and with which you promised to astonish the world? Now, in the event of such interrogations, what could I answer? It is true I had compiled Newgate Lives and Trials, and had written the life of Joseph Sell, but I was afraid that the people of the old town would scarcely consider these as equivalents for the Northern Ballads and the songs of Ab Gwilym. I would go forth and wander in any direction but that of the old town.

But how one’s sensibility on any particular point diminishes with time; at present I enter the old town perfectly indifferent as to what the people may be thinking on the subject of the songs and ballads. With respect to the people themselves, whether, like my sensibility, their curiosity has altogether evaporated, whether, which is at least equally probable, they never entertained any, one thing is certain, that never in a single instance have they troubled me with any remarks on the subject of the songs and ballads.

As it was my intention to travel on foot, with a bundle and a stick, I despatched my trunk containing some few clothes and books to the old town. My preparations were soon made; in about three days I was in readiness to start.

Before departing, however, I bethought me of my old friend the apple-woman of London Bridge. Apprehensive that she might be labouring under the difficulties of poverty, I sent her a piece of gold by the hands of a young maiden in the house in which I lived. The latter punctually executed her commission, but brought me back the piece of gold. The old woman would not take it; she did not want it, she said. ‘Tell the poor thin lad,’ she added, ‘to keep it for himself, he wants it more than I.’

Rather late one afternoon I departed from my lodging, with my stick in one hand and a small bundle in the other, shaping my course to the south-west: when I first arrived, somewhat more than a year before, I had entered the city by the north-east. As I was not going home, I determined to take my departure in the direction the very opposite to home.

Just as I was about to cross the street called the Haymarket, at the lower part, a cabriolet, drawn by a magnificent animal, came dashing along at a furious rate; it stopped close by the curb-stone where I was, a sudden pull of the reins nearly bringing the spirited animal upon its haunches. The Jehu who had accomplished this feat was Francis Ardry. A small beautiful female, with flashing eyes, dressed in the extremity of fashion, sat beside him.

‘Holloa, friend,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘whither bound?’

‘I do not know,’ said I; ‘all I can say is, that I am about to leave London.’

‘And the means?’ said Francis Ardry.

‘I have them,’ said I, with a cheerful smile.

‘Qui est celui-ci?’ demanded the small female, impatiently.

‘C’est — mon ami le plus intime; so you were about to leave London, without telling me a word,’ said Francis Ardry, somewhat angrily.

‘I intended to have written to you,’ said I: ‘what a splendid mare that is.’

‘Is she not?’ said Francis Ardry, who was holding in the mare with difficulty; ‘she cost a hundred guineas.’

‘Qu’est ce qu’il dit?’ demanded his companion.

‘Il dit que le jument est bien beau.’

‘Allons, mon ami, il est tard,’ said the beauty, with a scornful toss of her head; ‘allons!’

‘Encore un moment,’ said Francis Ardry; ‘and when shall I see you again?’

‘I scarcely know,’ I replied: ‘I never saw a more splendid turn out.’

‘Qu’est ce qu’il dit?’ I said the lady again.

‘Il dit que tout l’equipage est en assez bon gout.’

‘Allons, c’est un ours,’ said the lady; ‘le cheval meme en a peur,’ added she, as the mare reared up on high.

‘Can you find nothing else to admire but the mare and the equipage?’ said Francis Ardry, reproachfully, after he had with some difficulty brought the mare to order.

Lifting my hand, in which I held my stick, I took off my hat. ‘How beautiful!’ said I, looking the lady full in the face.

‘Comment?’ said the lady, inquiringly.

‘Il dit que vous etes belle comme un ange,’ said Francis Ardry, emphatically.

‘Mais, a la bonne heure! arretez, mon ami,’ said the lady to Francis Ardry, who was about to drive off; ‘je voudrais bien causer un moment avec lui; arretez, il est delicieux. — Est-ce bien ainsi que vous traitez vos amis?’ said she passionately, as Francis Ardry lifted up his whip. ‘Bon jour, Monsieur, bon jour,’ said she, thrusting her head from the side and looking back, as Francis Ardry drove off at the rate of thirteen miles an hour.

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