Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 71

Friend of Slingsby — All quiet — Danger — The two cakes — Children in the wood — Don’t be angry — In deep thought — Temples throbbing — Deadly sick — Another blow — No answer — How old are you? — Play and sacrament — Heavy heart — Song of poison — Drow of gypsies — The dog — Ely’s church — Get up, bebee — The vehicle — Can you speak? — The oil.

The next day, at an early hour, I harnessed my little pony, and, putting my things in my cart, I went on my projected stroll. Crossing the moor, I arrived in about an hour at a small village, from which, after a short stay, I proceeded to another, and from thence to a third. I found that the name of Slingsby was well known in these parts.

‘If you are a friend of Slingsby you must be an honest lad,’ said an ancient crone; ‘you shall never want for work whilst I can give it you. Here, take my kettle, the bottom came out this morning, and lend me that of yours till you bring it back. I’m not afraid to trust you — not I. Don’t hurry yourself, young man, if you don’t come back for a fortnight I shan’t have the worse opinion of you.’

I returned to my quarters at evening, tired, but rejoiced at heart; I had work before me for several days, having collected various kekaubies which required mending, in place of those which I left behind — those which I had been employed upon during the last few days. I found all quiet in the lane or glade, and, unharnessing my little horse, I once more pitched my tent in the old spot beneath the ash, lighted my fire, ate my frugal meal, and then, after looking for some time at the heavenly bodies, and more particularly at the star Jupiter, I entered my tent, lay down upon my pallet, and went to sleep.

Nothing occurred on the following day which requires any particular notice, nor indeed on the one succeeding that. It was about noon on the third day that I sat beneath the shade of the ash tree; I was not at work, for the weather was particularly hot, and I felt but little inclination to make any exertion. Leaning my back against the tree, I was not long in falling into a slumber; I particularly remember that slumber of mine beneath the ash tree, for it was about the sweetest slumber that I ever enjoyed; how long I continued in it I do not know; I could almost have wished that it had lasted to the present time. All of a sudden it appeared to me that a voice cried in my ear, ‘Danger! danger! danger!’ Nothing seemingly could be more distinct than the words which I heard; then an uneasy sensation came over me, which I strove to get rid of, and at last succeeded, for I awoke. The gypsy girl was standing just opposite to me, with her eyes fixed upon my countenance; a singular kind of little dog stood beside her.

‘Ha!’ said I, ‘was it you that cried danger? What danger is there?’

‘Danger, brother, there is no danger; what danger should there be? I called to my little dog, but that was in the wood; my little dog’s name is not danger, but Stranger; what danger should there be, brother?’

‘What, indeed, except in sleeping beneath a tree; what is that you have got in your hand?’

‘Something for you,’ said the girl, sitting down and proceeding to untie a white napkin; ‘a pretty manricli, so sweet, so nice; when I went home to my people I told my grandbebee how kind you had been to the poor person’s child, and when my grandbebee saw the kekaubi, she said, “Hir mi devlis, it won’t do for the poor people to be ungrateful; by my God, I will bake a cake for the young harko mescro.”’

‘But there are two cakes.’

‘Yes, brother, two cakes, both for you; my grandbebee meant them both for you — but list, brother, I will have one of them for bringing them. I know you will give me one, pretty brother, gray-haired brother — which shall I have, brother?’

In the napkin were two round cakes, seemingly made of rich and costly compounds, and precisely similar in form, each weighing about half a pound.

‘Which shall I have, brother?’ said the gypsy girl.

‘Whichever you please.’

‘No, brother, no, the cakes are yours, not mine. It is for you to say.’

‘Well, then, give me the one nearest you, and take the other.’

‘Yes, brother, yes,’ said the girl; and taking the cakes, she flung them into the air two or three times, catching them as they fell, and singing the while. ‘Pretty brother, gray-haired brother — here, brother,’ said she, ‘here is your cake, this other is mine.’

‘Are you sure,’ said I, taking the cake, ‘that this is the one I chose?’

‘Quite sure, brother; but if you like you can have mine; there’s no difference, however — shall I eat?’

‘Yes, sister, eat.’

‘See, brother, I do; now, brother, eat, pretty brother, gray-haired brother.’

‘I am not hungry.’

‘Not hungry! well, what then — what has being hungry to do with the matter? It is my grandbebee’s cake which was sent because you were kind to the poor person’s child; eat, brother, eat, and we shall be like the children in the wood that the gorgios speak of.’

‘The children in the wood had nothing to eat.’

‘Yes, they had hips and haws; we have better. Eat, brother.’

‘See, sister, I do,’ and I ate a piece of the cake.

‘Well, brother, how do you like it?’ said the girl, looking fixedly at me.

‘It is very rich and sweet, and yet there is something strange about it; I don’t think I shall eat any more.’

‘Fie, brother, fie, to find fault with the poor person’s cake; see, I have nearly eaten mine.’

‘That’s a pretty little dog.’

‘Is it not, brother? that’s my juggal, my little sister, as I call her.’

‘Come here, juggal,’ said I to the animal.

‘What do you want with my juggal?’ said the girl.

‘Only to give her a piece of cake,’ said I, offering the dog a piece which I had just broken off.

‘What do you mean?’ said the girl, snatching the dog away; ‘my grandbebee’s cake is not for dogs.’

‘Why, I just now saw you give the animal a piece of yours.’

‘You lie, brother, you saw no such thing; but I see how it is, you wish to affront the poor person’s child. I shall go to my house.’

‘Keep still, and don’t be angry; see, I have eaten the piece which I offered the dog. I meant no offence. It is a sweet cake after all.’

‘Isn’t it, brother? I am glad you like it. Offence, brother, no offence at all! I am so glad you like my grandbebee’s cake, but she will be wanting me at home. Eat one piece more of grandbebee’s cake, and I will go.’

‘I am not hungry, I will put the rest by.’

‘One piece more before I go, handsome brother, gray-haired brother.’

‘I will not eat any more, I have already eaten more than I wished to oblige you; if you must go, good-day to you.’

The girl rose upon her feet, looked hard at me, then at the remainder of the cake which I held in my hand, and then at me again, and then stood for a moment or two, as if in deep thought; presently an air of satisfaction came over her countenance, she smiled and said, ‘Well, brother, well, do as you please, I merely wished you to eat because you have been so kind to the poor person’s child. She loves you so, that she could have wished to have seen you eat it all; good-bye, brother, I daresay when I am gone you will eat some more of it, and if you don’t, I daresay you have eaten enough to — to — show your love for us. After all it was a poor person’s cake, a Rommany manricli, and all you gorgios are somewhat gorgious. Farewell, brother, pretty brother, gray-haired brother. Come, juggal.’

I remained under the ash tree seated on the grass for a minute or two, and endeavoured to resume the occupation in which I had been engaged before I fell asleep, but I felt no inclination for labour. I then thought I would sleep again, and once more reclined against the tree, and slumbered for some little time, but my sleep was more agitated than before. Something appeared to bear heavy on my breast, I struggled in my sleep, fell on the grass, and awoke; my temples were throbbing, there was a burning in my eyes, and my mouth felt parched; the oppression about the chest which I had felt in my sleep still continued. ‘I must shake off these feelings,’ said I, ‘and get upon my legs.’ I walked rapidly up and down upon the green sward; at length, feeling my thirst increase, I directed my steps down the narrow path to the spring which ran amidst the bushes; arriving there, I knelt down and drank of the water, but on lifting up my head I felt thirstier than before; again I drank, but with the like result; I was about to drink for the third time, when I felt a dreadful qualm which instantly robbed me of nearly all my strength. What can be the matter with me? thought I; but I suppose I have made myself ill by drinking cold water. I got up and made the best of my way back to my tent; before I reached it the qualm had seized me again, and I was deadly sick. I flung myself on my pallet, qualm succeeded qualm, but in the intervals my mouth was dry and burning, and I felt a frantic desire to drink, but no water was at hand, and to reach the spring once more was impossible; the qualms continued, deadly pains shot through my whole frame; I could bear my agonies no longer, and I fell into a trance or swoon. How long I continued therein I know not; on recovering, however, I felt somewhat better, and attempted to lift my head off my couch; the next moment, however, the qualms and pains returned, if possible, with greater violence than before. I am dying, thought I, like a dog, without any help; and then methought I heard a sound at a distance like people singing, and then once more I relapsed into my swoon.

I revived just as a heavy blow sounded upon the canvas of the tent. I started, but my condition did not permit me to rise; again the same kind of blow sounded upon the canvas; I thought for a moment of crying out and requesting assistance, but an inexplicable something chained my tongue, and now I heard a whisper on the outside of the tent. ‘He does not move, bebee,’ said a voice which I knew. ‘I should not wonder if it has done for him already; however, strike again with your ran’; and then there was another blow, after which another voice cried aloud in a strange tone, ‘Is the gentleman of the house asleep, or is he taking his dinner?’ I remained quite silent and motionless, and in another moment the voice continued, ‘What, no answer? what can the gentleman of the house be about that he makes no answer? perhaps the gentleman of the house may be darning his stockings?’ Thereupon a face peered into the door of the tent, at the farther extremity of which I was stretched. It was that of a woman, but owing to the posture in which she stood, with her back to the light, and partly owing to a large straw bonnet, I could distinguish but very little of the features of her countenance. I had, however, recognised her voice; it was that of my old acquaintance, Mrs. Herne. ‘Ho, ho, sir!’ said she, ‘here you are. Come here, Leonora,’ said she to the gypsy girl, who pressed in at the other side of the door; ‘here is the gentleman, not asleep, but only stretched out after dinner. Sit down on your ham, child, at the door, I shall do the same. There — you have seen me before, sir, have you not?’

‘The gentleman makes no answer, bebee; perhaps he does not know you.’

‘I have known him of old, Leonora,’ said Mrs. Herne; ‘and, to tell you the truth, though I spoke to him just now, I expected no answer.’

‘It’s a way he has, bebee, I suppose?’

‘Yes, child, it’s a way he has.’

‘Take off your bonnet, bebee, perhaps he cannot see your face.’

‘I do not think that will be of much use, child; however, I will take off my bonnet — there — and shake out my hair — there — you have seen this hair before, sir, and this face — ’

‘No answer, bebee.’

‘Though the one was not quite so gray, nor the other so wrinkled.’

‘How came they so, bebee?’

‘All along of this gorgio, child.’

‘The gentleman in the house, you mean, bebee?’

‘Yes, child, the gentleman in the house. God grant that I may preserve my temper. Do you know, sir, my name? My name is Herne, which signifies a hairy individual, though neither gray-haired nor wrinkled. It is not the nature of the Hernes to be gray or wrinkled, even when they are old, and I am not old.’

‘How old are you, bebee?’

‘Sixty-five years, child — an inconsiderable number. My mother was a hundred and one — a considerable age — when she died, yet she had not one gray hair, and not more than six wrinkles — an inconsiderable number.’

‘She had no griefs, bebee?’

‘Plenty, child, but not like mine.’

‘Not quite so hard to bear, bebee?’

‘No, child; my head wanders when I think of them. After the death of my husband, who came to his end untimeously, I went to live with a daughter of mine, married out among certain Romans who walk about the eastern counties, and with whom for some time I found a home and pleasant society, for they lived right Romanly, which gave my heart considerable satisfaction, who am a Roman born, and hope to die so. When I say right Romanly, I mean that they kept to themselves, and were not much given to blabbing about their private matters in promiscuous company. Well, things went on in this way for some time, when one day my son-inlaw brings home a young gorgio of singular and outrageous ugliness, and, without much preamble, says to me and mine, “This is my pal, ain’t he a beauty? fall down and worship him.” “Hold,” said I, “I for one will never consent to such foolishness.”’

‘That was right, bebee, I think I should have done the same.’

‘I think you would, child; but what was the profit of it? The whole party makes an almighty of this gorgio, lets him into their ways, says prayers of his making, till things come to such a pass that my own daughter says to me, “I shall buy myself a veil and fan, and treat myself to a play and sacrament.” “Don’t,” says I; says she, “I should like for once in my life to be courtesied to as a Christian gentlewoman.”’

‘Very foolish of her, bebee.’

‘Wasn’t it, child? Where was I? At the fan and sacrament; with a heavy heart I put seven score miles between us, came back to the hairy ones, and found them over-given to gorgious companions; said I, “Foolish manners is catching; all this comes of that there gorgio.” Answers the child Leonora, “Take comfort, bebee; I hate the gorgios as much as you do.”’

‘And I say so again, bebee, as much or more.’

‘Time flows on, I engage in many matters, in most miscarry. Am sent to prison; says I to myself, I am become foolish. Am turned out of prison, and go back to the hairy ones, who receive me not over courteously; says I, for their unkindness, and my own foolishness, all the thanks to that gorgio. Answers to me the child, “I wish I could set eyes upon him, bebee.”’

‘I did so, bebee; go on.’

‘“How shall I know him, bebee?” says the child. “Young and gray, tall, and speaks Romanly.” Runs to me the child, and says, “I’ve found him, bebee.” “Where, child?” says I. “Come with me, bebee,” says the child. “That’s he,” says I, as I looked at my gentleman through the hedge.’

‘Ha, ha! bebee, and here he lies, poisoned like a hog.’

‘You have taken drows, sir,’ said Mrs. Herne; ‘do you hear, sir? drows; tip him a stave, child, of the song of poison.’

And thereupon the girl clapped her hands, and sang —

‘The Rommany churl And the Rommany girl To-morrow shall hie To poison the sty, And bewitch on the mead The farmer’s steed.’

‘Do you hear that, sir?’ said Mrs. Herne; ‘the child has tipped you a stave of the song of poison: that is, she has sung it Christianly, though perhaps you would like to hear it Romanly; you were always fond of what was Roman. Tip it him Romanly, child.’

‘He has heard it Romanly already, bebee; ’twas by that I found him out, as I told you.’

‘Halloo, sir, are you sleeping? you have taken drows; the gentleman makes no answer. God give me patience!’

‘And what if he doesn’t, bebee; isn’t he poisoned like a hog? Gentleman, indeed! why call him gentleman? if he ever was one he’s broke, and is now a tinker, a worker of blue metal.’

‘That’s his way, child, today a tinker, tomorrow something else; and as for being drabbed, I don’t know what to say about it.’

‘Not drabbed! what do you mean, bebee? but look there, bebee; ha, ha, look at the gentleman’s motions.’

‘He is sick, child, sure enough. Ho, ho! sir, you have taken drows; what, another throe! writhe, sir, writhe; the hog died by the drow of gypsies; I saw him stretched at evening. That’s yourself, sir. There is no hope, sir, no help, you have taken drow; shall I tell you your fortune, sir, your dukkerin? God bless you, pretty gentleman, much trouble will you have to suffer, and much water to cross; but never mind, pretty gentleman, you shall be fortunate at the end, and those who hate shall take off their hats to you.’

‘Hey, bebee!’ cried the girl; ‘what is this? what do you mean? you have blessed the gorgio!’

‘Blessed him! no, sure; what did I say? Oh, I remember, I’m mad; well, I can’t help it, I said what the dukkerin dook told me; woe’s me, he’ll get up yet.’

‘Nonsense, bebee! Look at his motions, he’s drabbed, spite of dukkerin.’

‘Don’t say so, child; he’s sick, ’tis true, but don’t laugh at dukkerin, only folks do that that know no better. I, for one, will never laugh at the dukkerin dook. Sick again; I wish he was gone.’

‘He’ll soon be gone, bebee; let’s leave him. He’s as good as gone; look there, he’s dead.’

‘No, he’s not, he’ll get up — I feel it; can’t we hasten him?’

‘Hasten him! yes, to be sure; set the dog upon him. Here, juggal, look in there, my dog.’

The dog made its appearance at the door of the tent, and began to bark and tear up the ground.

‘At him, juggal, at him; he wished to poison, to drab you. Halloo!’

The dog barked violently, and seemed about to spring at my face, but retreated.

‘The dog won’t fly at him, child; he flashed at the dog with his eye, and scared him. He’ll get up.’

‘Nonsense, bebee! you make me angry; how should he get up?’

‘The dook tells me so, and, what’s more, I had a dream. I thought I was at York, standing amidst a crowd to see a man hung, and the crowd shouted, “There he comes!” and I looked, and, lo! it was the tinker; before I could cry with joy I was whisked away, and I found myself in Ely’s big church, which was chock full of people to hear the dean preach, and all eyes were turned to the big pulpit; and presently I heard them say, “There he mounts!” and I looked up to the big pulpit, and, lo! the tinker was in the pulpit, and he raised his arm and began to preach. Anon, I found myself at York again, just as the drop fell, and I looked up, and I saw not the tinker, but my own self hanging in the air.’

‘You are going mad, bebee; if you want to hasten him, take your stick and poke him in the eye.’

‘That will be of no use, child, the dukkerin tells me so; but I will try what I can do. Halloo, tinker! you must introduce yourself into a quiet family, and raise confusion — must you? You must steal its language, and, what was never done before, write it down Christianly — must you? Take that — and that’; and she stabbed violently with her stick towards the end of the tent.

‘That’s right, bebee, you struck his face; now once more, and let it be in the eye. Stay, what’s that? get up, bebee.’

‘What’s the matter, child?’

‘Some one is coming, come away.’

‘Let me make sure of him, child; he’ll be up yet.’ And thereupon Mrs. Herne, rising, leaned forward into the tent, and, supporting herself against the pole, took aim in the direction of the farther end. ‘I will thrust out his eye,’ said she; and, lunging with her stick, she would probably have accomplished her purpose had not at that moment the pole of the tent given way, whereupon she fell to the ground, the canvas falling upon her and her intended victim.

‘Here’s a pretty affair, bebee,’ screamed the girl.

‘He’ll get up, yet,’ said Mrs. Herne, from beneath the canvas.

‘Get up! — get up yourself; where are you? where is your — Here, there, bebee, here’s the door; there, make haste, they are coming.’

‘He’ll get up yet,’ said Mrs. Herne, recovering her breath; ‘the dock tells me so.’

‘Never mind him or the dook; he is drabbed; come away, or we shall be grabbed — both of us.’

‘One more blow, I know where his head lies.’

‘You are mad, bebee; leave the fellow — gorgio avella.’

And thereupon the females hurried away.

A vehicle of some kind was evidently drawing nigh; in a little time it came alongside of the place where lay the fallen tent, and stopped suddenly. There was a silence for a moment, and then a parley ensued between two voices, one of which was that of a woman. It was not in English, but in a deep guttural tongue.

‘Peth yw hono sydd yn gorwedd yna ar y ddaear?’ said a masculine voice.

‘Yn wirionedd — I do not know what it can be,’ said the female voice, in the same tongue.

‘Here is a cart, and there are tools; but what is that on the ground?’

‘Something moves beneath it; and what was that — a groan?’

‘Shall I get down?’

‘Of course, Peter, some one may want your help?

‘Then I will get down, though I do not like this place; it is frequented by Egyptians, and I do not like their yellow faces, nor their clibberty clabber, as Master Ellis Wyn says. Now I am down. It is a tent, Winifred, and see, here is a boy beneath it. Merciful father! what a face.’

A middle-aged man, with a strongly marked and serious countenance, dressed in sober-coloured habiliments, had lifted up the stifling folds of the tent, and was bending over me. ‘Can you speak, my lad?’ said he in English; ‘what is the matter with you? if you could but tell me, I could perhaps help you — ’ ‘What is that you say? I can’t hear you. I will kneel down’; and he flung himself on the ground, and placed his ear close to my mouth. ‘Now speak if you can. Hey! what! no, sure, God forbid!’ then starting up, he cried to a female who sat in the cart, anxiously looking on — ‘Gwenwyn! gwenwyn! yw y gwas wedi ei gwenwynaw. The oil! Winifred, the oil!’

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