Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 89

The dingle — Give them ale — Not over complimentary — America — Many people — Washington — Promiscuous company — Language of the roads — The old women — Numerals — The man in black.

The public-house where the scenes which I have attempted to describe in the preceding chapters took place, was at the distance of about two miles from the dingle. The sun was sinking in the west by the time I returned to the latter spot. I found Belle seated by a fire, over which her kettle was suspended. During my absence she had prepared herself a kind of tent, consisting of large hoops covered over with tarpaulins, quite impenetrable to rain, however violent. ‘I am glad you are returned,’ said she, as soon as she perceived me; ‘I began to be anxious about you. Did you take my advice?’

‘Yes,’ said I; ‘I went to the public-house and drank ale, as you advised me; it cheered, strengthened, and drove away the horror from my mind — I am much beholden to you.’

‘I knew it would do you good,’ said Belle; ‘I remembered that when the poor women in the great house were afflicted with hysterics, and fearful imaginings, the surgeon, who was a good kind man, used to say, “Ale, give them ale, and let it be strong.”’

‘He was no advocate for tea, then?’ said I.

‘He had no objection to tea; but he used to say, “Everything in its season.” Shall we take ours now? — I have waited for you.’

‘I have no objection,’ said I; ‘I feel rather heated, and at present should prefer tea to ale — “Everything in its season,” as the surgeon said.’

Thereupon Belle prepared tea, and, as we were taking it, she said — ‘What did you see and hear at the public-house?’

‘Really,’ said I, ‘you appear to have your full portion of curiosity; what matters it to you what I saw and heard at the public-house?’

‘It matters very little to me,’ said Belle; ‘I merely inquired of you, for the sake of a little conversation — you were silent, and it is uncomfortable for two people to sit together without opening their lips — at least I think so.’

‘One only feels uncomfortable,’ said I, ‘in being silent, when one happens to be thinking of the individual with whom one is in company. To tell you the truth, I was not thinking of my companion, but of certain company with whom I had been at the public-house.’

‘Really, young man,’ said Belle, ‘you are not over complimentary; but who may this wonderful company have been — some young —?’ and here Belle stopped.

‘No,’ said I, ‘there was no young person — if person you were going to say. There was a big portly landlord, whom I daresay you have seen; a noisy savage Radical, who wanted at first to fasten upon me a quarrel about America, but who subsequently drew in his horns; then there was a strange fellow, a prowling priest, I believe, whom I have frequently heard of, who at first seemed disposed to side with the Radical against me, and afterwards with me against the Radical. There, you know my company, and what took place.’

‘Was there no one else?’ said Belle.

‘You are mighty curious,’ said I. ‘No, none else, except a poor simple mechanic, and some common company, who soon went away.’

Belle looked at me for a moment, and then appeared to be lost in thought — ‘America!’ said she, musingly — ‘America!’

‘What of America?’ said I.

‘I have heard that it is a mighty country.’

‘I daresay it is,’ said I; ‘I have heard my father say that the Americans are first-rate marksmen.’

‘I heard nothing about that,’ said Belle; ‘what I heard was, that it is a great and goodly land, where people can walk about without jostling, and where the industrious can always find bread; I have frequently thought of going thither.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘the Radical in the public-house will perhaps be glad of your company thither; he is as great an admirer of America as yourself, though I believe on different grounds.’

‘I shall go by myself,’ said Belle, ‘unless — unless that should happen which is not likely — I am not fond of Radicals no more than I am of scoffers and mockers.’

‘Do you mean to say that I am a scoffer and mocker?’

‘I don’t wish to say you are,’ said Belle; ‘but some of your words sound strangely like scoffing and mocking. I have now one thing to beg, which is, that if you have anything to say against America, you would speak it out boldly.’

‘What should I have to say against America? I never was there.’

‘Many people speak against America who never were there.’

‘Many people speak in praise of America who never were there; but with respect to myself, I have not spoken for or against America.’

‘If you liked America you would speak in its praise.’

‘By the same rule, if I disliked America I should speak against it.’

‘I can’t speak with you,’ said Belle; ‘but I see you dislike the country.’

‘The country!’

‘Well, the people — don’t you?’

‘I do.’

‘Why do you dislike them?’

‘Why, I have heard my father say that the American marksmen, led on by a chap of the name of Washington, sent the English to the right-about in double-quick time.’

‘And that is your reason for disliking the Americans?’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘that is my reason for disliking them.’

‘Will you take another cup of tea?’ said Belle.

I took another cup; we were again silent. ‘It is rather uncomfortable,’ said I, at last, ‘for people to sit together without having anything to say.’

‘Were you thinking of your company?’ said Belle.

‘What company?’ said I.

‘The present company.’

‘The present company! oh, ah — I remember that I said one only feels uncomfortable in being silent with a companion, when one happens to be thinking of the companion. Well, I had been thinking of you the last two or three minutes, and had just come to the conclusion that, to prevent us both feeling occasionally uncomfortably towards each other, having nothing to say, it would be as well to have a standing subject on which to employ our tongues. Belle, I have determined to give you lessons in Armenian.’

‘What is Armenian?’

‘Did you ever hear of Ararat?’

‘Yes, that was the place where the ark rested; I have heard the chaplain in the great house talk of it; besides, I have read of it in the Bible.’

‘Well, Armenian is the speech of people of that place, and I should like to teach it you.’

‘To prevent — ’

‘Ay, ay, to prevent our occasionally feeling uncomfortable together. Your acquiring it besides might prove of ulterior advantage to us both; for example, suppose you and I were in promiscuous company, at Court, for example, and you had something to communicate to me which you did not wish any one else to be acquainted with, how safely you might communicate it to me in Armenian.’

‘Would not the language of the roads do as well?’ said Belle.

‘In some places it would,’ said I, ‘but not at Court, owing to its resemblance to thieves’ slang. There is Hebrew, again, which I was thinking of teaching you, till the idea of being presented at Court made me abandon it, from the probability of our being understood, in the event of our speaking it, by at least half a dozen people in our vicinity. There is Latin, it is true, or Greek, which we might speak aloud at Court with perfect confidence of safety, but upon the whole I should prefer teaching you Armenian, not because it would be a safer language to hold communication with at Court, but because, not being very well grounded in it myself, I am apprehensive that its words and forms may escape from my recollection, unless I have sometimes occasion to call them forth.’

‘I am afraid we shall have to part company before I have learnt it,’ said Belle; ‘in the meantime, if I wish to say anything to you in private, somebody being by, shall I speak in the language of the roads?’

‘If no roadster is nigh you may,’ said I, ‘and I will do my best to understand you. Belle, I will now give you a lesson in Armenian.’

‘I suppose you mean no harm,’ said Belle.

‘Not in the least; I merely propose the thing to prevent our occasionally feeling uncomfortable together. Let us begin.’

‘Stop till I have removed the tea things,’ said Belle; and, getting up, she removed them to her own encampment.

‘I am ready,’ said Belle, returning, and taking her former seat, ‘to join with you in anything which will serve to pass away the time agreeably, provided there is no harm in it.’

‘Belle,’ said I, ‘I have determined to commence the course of Armenian lessons by teaching you the numerals; but, before I do that, it will be as well to tell you that the Armenian language is called Haik.’

‘I am sure that word will hang upon my memory,’ said Belle.

‘Why hang upon it?’ said I.

‘Because the old women in the great house used to call so the chimney-hook, on which they hung the kettle; in like manner, on the hake of my memory I will hang your hake.’

‘Good!’ said I, ‘you will make an apt scholar; but mind that I did not say hake, but haik; the words are, however, very much alike; and, as you observe, upon your hake you may hang my haik. We will now proceed to the numerals.’

‘What are numerals?’ said Belle.

‘Numbers. I will say the Haikan numbers up to ten. There — have you heard them?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, try and repeat them.’

‘I only remember number one,’ said Belle, ‘and that because it is me.’

‘ I will repeat them again,’ said I, ‘and pay greater attention. Now, try again.’

‘Me, jergo, earache.’

‘I neither said jergo nor earache. I said yergou and yerek. Belle, I am afraid I shall have some difficulty with you as a scholar.’

Belle made no answer. Her eyes were turned in the direction of the winding path which led from the bottom of the hollow, where we were seated, to the plain above. ‘Gorgio shunella,’ she said at length, in a low voice.

‘Pure Rommany,’ said I; ‘where?’ I added, in a whisper.

‘Dovey odoi,’ said Belle, nodding with her head towards the path.

‘I will soon see who it is,’ said I; and starting up, I rushed towards the pathway, intending to lay violent hands on any one I might find lurking in its windings. Before, however, I had reached its commencement, a man, somewhat above the middle height, advanced from it into the dingle, in whom I recognised the man in black whom I had seen in the public-house.

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