Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 92

The landlord — Rather too old — Without a shilling — Reputation — A fortnight ago — Liquids — The main chance — Respectability — Irrational beings — Parliament cove — My brewer.

Amongst other excursions, I went several times to the public-house to which I introduced the reader in a former chapter. I had experienced such beneficial effects from the ale I had drunk on that occasion, that I wished to put its virtue to a frequent test; nor did the ale on subsequent trials belie the good opinion which I had at first formed of it. After each visit which I made to the public-house, I found my frame stronger and my mind more cheerful than they had previously been. The landlord appeared at all times glad to see me, and insisted that I should sit within the bar, where, leaving his other guests to be attended to by a niece of his, who officiated as his housekeeper, he would sit beside me and talk of matters concerning ‘the ring,’ indulging himself with a cigar and a glass of sherry, which he told me was his favourite wine, whilst I drank my ale. ‘I loves the conversation of all you coves of the ring,’ said he once, ‘which is natural, seeing as how I have fought in a ring myself. Ah, there is nothing like the ring; I wish I was not rather too old to go again into it. I often think I should like to have another rally — one more rally, and then — but there’s a time for all things — youth will be served, every dog has his day, and mine has been a fine one — let me be content. After beating Tom of Hopton, there was not much more to be done in the way of reputation; I have long sat in my bar the wonder and glory of this here neighbourhood. I’m content, as far as reputation goes; I only wish money would come in a little faster; however, the next main of cocks will bring me in something handsome — comes off next Wednesday, at —; have ventured ten five-pound notes — shouldn’t say ventured either — run no risk at all, because why? I knows my birds.’ About ten days after this harangue I called again, at about three o’clock one afternoon. The landlord was seated on a bench by a table in the common room, which was entirely empty; he was neither smoking nor drinking, but sat with his arms folded, and his head hanging down over his breast. At the sound of my step he looked up; ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘I am glad you are come, I was just thinking about you.’ ‘Thank you,’ said I; ‘it was very kind of you, especially at a time like this, when your mind must be full of your good fortune. Allow me to congratulate you on the sums of money you won by the main of cocks at —. I hope you brought it all safe home.’ ‘Safe home!’ said the landlord; ‘I brought myself safe home, and that was all; came home without a shilling, regularly done, cleaned out.’ ‘I am sorry for that,’ said I; ‘but after you had won the money, you ought to have been satisfied, and not risked it again — how did you lose it? I hope not by the pea and thimble.’ ‘Pea and thimble,’ said the landlord — ‘not I; those confounded cocks left me nothing to lose by the pea and thimble.’ ‘Dear me,’ said I; ‘I thought that you knew your birds.’ ‘Well, so I did,’ said the landlord; ‘I knew the birds to be good birds, and so they proved, and would have won if better birds had not been brought against them, of which I knew nothing, and so do you see I am done, regularly done.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘don’t be cast down; there is one thing of which the cocks by their misfortune cannot deprive you — your reputation; make the most of that, give up cock-fighting, and be content with the custom of your house, of which you will always have plenty, as long as you are the wonder and glory of the neighbourhood.’

The landlord struck the table before him violently with his fist. ‘Confound my reputation!’ said he. ‘No reputation that I have will be satisfaction to my brewer for the seventy pounds I owe him. Reputation won’t pass for the current coin of this here realm; and let me tell you, that if it ain’t backed by some of it, it ain’t a bit better than rotten cabbage, as I have found. Only three weeks since I was, as I told you, the wonder and glory of the neighbourhood; and people used to come to look at me, and worship me; but as soon as it began to be whispered about that I owed money to the brewer, they presently left off all that kind of thing; and now, during the last three days, since the tale of my misfortune with the cocks has got wind, almost everybody has left off coming to the house, and the few who does, merely comes to insult and flout me. It was only last night that fellow, Hunter, called me an old fool in my own kitchen here. He wouldn’t have called me a fool a fortnight ago; ’twas I called him fool then, and last night he called me old fool; what do you think of that? — the man that beat Tom of Hopton, to be called, not only a fool, but an old fool; and I hadn’t heart, with one blow of this here fist into his face, to send his head ringing against the wall; for when a man’s pocket is low, do you see, his heart ain’t much higher; but it is of no use talking, something must be done. I was thinking of you just as you came in, for you are just the person that can help me.’

‘If you mean,’ said I, ‘to ask me to lend you the money which you want, it will be to no purpose, as I have very little of my own, just enough for my own occasions; it is true, if you desired it, I would be your intercessor with the person to whom you owe the money, though I should hardly imagine that anything I could say — ’ ‘You are right there,’ said the landlord; ‘much the brewer would care for anything you could say on my behalf — your going would be the very way to do me up entirely. A pretty opinion he would have of the state of my affairs if I were to send him such a ‘cessor as you; and as for your lending me money, don’t think I was ever fool enough to suppose either that you had any, or if you had that you would be fool enough to lend me any. No, no, the coves of the ring knows better; I have been in the ring myself, and knows what a fighting cove is, and though I was fool enough to back those birds, I was never quite fool enough to lend anybody money. What I am about to propose is something very different from going to my landlord, or lending any capital; something which, though it will put money into my pocket, will likewise put something handsome into your own. I want to get up a fight in this here neighbourhood, which would be sure to bring plenty of people to my house, for a week before and after it takes place; and as people can’t come without drinking, I think I could, during one fortnight, get off for the brewer all the sour and unsaleable liquids he now has, which people wouldn’t drink at any other time, and by that means, do you see, liquidate my debt; then, by means of betting, making first all right, do you see, I have no doubt that I could put something handsome into my pocket and yours, for I should wish you to be the fighting man, as I think I can depend upon you.’ ‘You really must excuse me,’ said I; ‘I have no wish to figure as a pugilist; besides, there is such a difference in our ages; you may be the stronger man of the two, and perhaps the hardest hitter, but I am in much better condition, am more active on my legs, so that I am almost sure I should have the advantage, for, as you very properly observed, “Youth will be served.”’ ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to fight,’ said the landlord; ‘I think I could beat you if I were to train a little; but in the fight I propose I looks more to the main chance than anything else. I question whether half so many people could be brought together if you were to fight with me as the person I have in view, or whether there would be half such opportunities for betting, for I am a man, do you see; the person I wants you to fight with is not a man, but the young woman you keeps company with.’

‘The young woman I keep company with,’ said I; ‘pray what do you mean?’

‘We will go into the bar, and have something,’ said the landlord, getting up. ‘My niece is out, and there is no one in the house, so we can talk the matter over quietly.’ Thereupon I followed him into the bar, where, having drawn me a jug of ale, helped himself as usual to a glass of sherry, and lighted a cigar, he proceeded to explain himself further. ‘What I wants is to get up a fight between a man and a woman; there never has yet been such a thing in the ring, and the mere noise of the matter would bring thousands of people together, quite enough to drink out, for the thing should be close to my house, all the brewer’s stock of liquids, both good and bad.’ ‘But,’ said I, ‘you were the other day boasting of the respectability of your house; do you think that a fight between a man and a woman close to your establishment would add to its respectability?’ ‘Confound the respectability of my house,’ said the landlord; ‘will the respectability of my house pay the brewer, or keep the roof over my head? No, no! when respectability won’t keep a man, do you see, the best thing is to let it go and wander. Only let me have my own way, and both the brewer, myself, and every one of us, will be satisfied. And then the betting — what a deal we may make by the betting — and that we shall have all to ourselves, you, I, and the young woman; the brewer will have no hand in that. I can manage to raise ten pounds, and if by flashing that about I don’t manage to make a hundred, call me horse.’ ‘But suppose,’ said I, ‘the party should lose, on whom you sport your money, even as the birds did?’ ‘We must first make all right,’ said the landlord, ‘as I told you before; the birds were irrational beings, and therefore couldn’t come to an understanding with the others, as you and the young woman can. The birds fought fair; but I intend that you and the young woman should fight cross.’ ‘What do you mean by cross?’ said I. ‘Come, come,’ said the landlord, ‘don’t attempt to gammon me; you in the ring, and pretend not to know what fighting cross is! That won’t do, my fine fellow; but as no one is near us, I will speak out. I intend that you and the young woman should understand one another, and agree beforehand which should be beat; and if you take my advice, you will determine between you that the young woman shall be beat, as I am sure that the odds will run high upon her, her character as a fist-woman being spread far and wide, so that all the flats who think it will be all right will back her, as I myself would, if I thought it would be a fair thing.’ ‘Then,’ said I, ‘you would not have us fight fair?’ ‘By no means,’ said the landlord, ‘because why? — I conceives that a cross is a certainty to those who are in it, whereas by the fair thing one may lose all he has.’ ‘But,’ said I, ‘you said the other day that you liked the fair thing.’ ‘That was by way of gammon,’ said the landlord; ‘just, do you see, as a Parliament cove might say, speechifying from a barrel to a set of flats, whom he means to sell. Come, what do you think of the plan?’

‘It is a very ingenious one,’ said I.

‘Ain’t it?’ said the landlord. ‘The folks in this neighbourhood are beginning to call me old fool; but if they don’t call me something else, when they sees me friends with the brewer, and money in my pocket, my name is not Catchpole. Come, drink your ale, and go home to the young gentlewoman.’

‘I am going,’ said I, rising from my seat, after finishing the remainder of the ale.

‘Do you think she’ll have any objection?’ said the landlord.

‘To do what?’ said I.

‘Why, to fight cross.’

‘Yes, I do,’ said I.

‘But you will do your best to persuade her?’

‘No, I will not,’ said I.

‘Are you fool enough to wish to fight fair?’

‘No,’ said I, ‘I am wise enough to wish not to fight at all.’

‘And how’s my brewer to be paid?’ said the landlord.

‘I really don’t know,’ said I.

‘I’ll change my religion,’ said the landlord.

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