The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 1

The Making of the Linch-Pin — The Sound Sleeper — Breakfast — The Postillion’s Departure

I awoke at the first break of day, and, leaving the postillion fast asleep, stepped out of the tent. The dingle was dank and dripping. I lighted a fire of coals and got my forge in readiness. I then ascended to the field, where the chaise was standing as we had left it on the previous evening. After looking at the cloud-stone near it, now cold, and split into three pieces, I set about prying narrowly into the condition of the wheel and axle-tree — the latter had sustained no damage of any consequence, and the wheel, as far as I was able to judge, was sound, being only slightly injured in the box. The only thing requisite to set the chaise in a travelling condition appeared to be a linch-pin, which I determined to make. Going to the companion wheel, I took out the linch-pin, which I carried down with me to the dingle, to serve me as a model.

I found Belle by this time dressed, and seated near the forge: with a slight nod to her like that which a person gives who happens to see an acquaintance when his mind is occupied with important business, I forthwith set about my work. Selecting a piece of iron which I thought would serve my purpose, I placed it in the fire, and, plying the bellows in a furious manner, soon made it hot; then seizing it with the tongs, I laid it on my anvil, and began to beat it with my hammer, according to the rules of my art. The dingle resounded with my strokes. Belle sat still, and occasionally smiled, but suddenly started up, and retreated towards her encampment, on a spark, which I purposely sent in her direction, alighting on her knee. I found the making of a linch-pin no easy matter; it was, however, less difficult than the fabrication of a pony-shoe; my work, indeed, was much facilitated by my having another pin to look at. In about three-quarters of an hour I had succeeded tolerably well, and had produced a linch-pin which I thought would serve. During all this time, notwithstanding the noise which I was making, the postillion never showed his face. His non-appearance at first alarmed me: I was afraid he might be dead, but, on looking into the tent, I found him still buried in the soundest sleep. ‘He must surely be descended from one of the seven sleepers,’ said I, as I turned away and resumed my work. My work finished, I took a little oil, leather, and sand, and polished the pin as well as I could; then, summoning Belle, we both went to the chaise, where, with her assistance, I put on the wheel. The linch-pin which I had made fitted its place very well, and having replaced the other, I gazed at the chaise for some time with my heart full of that satisfaction which results from the consciousness of having achieved a great action; then, after looking at Belle in the hope of obtaining a compliment from her lips, which did not come, I returned to the dingle, without saying a word, followed by her. Belle set about making preparations for breakfast; and I, taking the kettle, went and filled it at the spring. Having hung it over the fire, I went to the tent in which the postillion was still sleeping, and called upon him to arise. He awoke with a start, and stared around him at first with the utmost surprise, not unmixed, I could observe, with a certain degree of fear. At last, looking in my face, he appeared to recollect himself. ‘I had quite forgot,’ said he, as he got up, ‘where I was, and all that happened yesterday. However, I remember now the whole affair — thunder-storm, thunder-bolt, frightened horses, and all your kindness. Come, I must see after my coach and horses. I hope we shall be able to repair the damage.’ ‘The damage is already quite repaired,’ said I, ‘as you will see, if you come to the field above.’ ‘You don’t say so,’ said the postillion, coming out of the tent; ‘well, I am mightily beholden to you. Good morning, young gentlewoman,’ said he, addressing Belle, who, having finished her preparations, was seated near the fire. ‘Good-morning, young man,’ said Belle, ‘I suppose you would be glad of some breakfast; however, you must wait a little, the kettle does not boil.’ ‘Come and look at your chaise,’ said I; ‘but tell me how it happened that the noise which I have been making did not awake you; for three-quarters of an hour at least I was hammering close at your ear.’ ‘I heard you all the time,’ said the postillion, ‘but your hammering made me sleep all the sounder; I am used to hear hammering in my morning sleep. There’s a forge close by the room where I sleep when I’m at home, at my inn; for we have all kinds of conveniences at my inn — forge, carpenter’s shop, and wheelwright’s — so that when I heard you hammering, I thought, no doubt, that it was the old noise, and that I was comfortable in my bed at my own inn.’ We now ascended to the field, where I showed the postillion his chaise. He looked at the pin attentively, rubbed his hands, and gave a loud laugh. ‘Is it not well done?’ said I. ‘It will do till I get home,’ he replied. ‘And that is all you have to say?’ I demanded. ‘And that’s a good deal,’ said he, ‘considering who made it. But don’t be offended,’ he added, ‘I shall prize it all the more for its being made by a gentleman, and no blacksmith; and so will my governor, when I show it to him. I shan’t let it remain where it is, but will keep it, as a remembrance of you, as long as I live.’ He then again rubbed his hands with great glee, and said, ‘I will now go and see after my horses, and then to breakfast, partner, if you please.’ Suddenly, however, looking at his hands, he said, ‘Before sitting down to breakfast, I am in the habit of washing my hands and face: I suppose you could not furnish me with a little soap and water.’ ‘As much water as you please,’ said I, ‘but if you want soap, I must go and trouble the young gentlewoman for some.’ ‘By no means,’ said the postillion, ‘water will do at a pinch.’ ‘Follow me,’ said I, and leading him to the pond of the frogs and newts, I said, ‘this is my ewer; you are welcome to part of it — the water is so soft that it is scarcely necessary to add soap to it;’ then lying down on the bank, I plunged my head into the water, then scrubbed my hands and face, and afterwards wiped them with some long grass which grew on the margin of the pond. ‘Bravo,’ said the postillion, ‘I see you know how to make a shift:’ he then followed my example, declared he never felt more refreshed in his life, and, giving a bound, said, ‘he would go and look after his horses.’

We then went to look after the horses, which we found not much the worse for having spent the night in the open air. My companion again inserted their heads in the corn-bags, and, leaving the animals to discuss their corn, returned with me to the dingle, where we found the kettle boiling. We sat down, and Belle made tea and did the honours of the meal. The postillion was in high spirits, ate heartily, and, to Belle’s evident satisfaction, declared that he had never drank better tea in his life, or indeed any half so good. Breakfast over, he said that he must now go and harness his horses, as it was high time for him to return to his inn. Belle gave him her hand and wished him farewell: the postillion shook her hand warmly, and was advancing close up to her — for what purpose I cannot say — whereupon Belle, withdrawing her hand, drew herself up with an air which caused the postillion to retreat a step or two with an exceedingly sheepish look. Recovering himself, however, he made a low bow, and proceeded up the path. I attended him, and helped to harness his horses and put them to the vehicle; he then shook me by the hand, and taking the reins and whip mounted to his seat; ere he drove away he thus addressed me: ‘If ever I forget your kindness and that of the young woman below, dash my buttons. If ever either of you should enter my inn you may depend upon a warm welcome, the best that can be set before you, and no expense to either, for I will give both of you the best of characters to the governor, who is the very best fellow upon all the road. As for your linch-pin, I trust it will serve till I get home, when I will take it out and keep it in remembrance of you all the days of my life:’ then giving the horses a jerk with his reins, he cracked his whip and drove off.

I returned to the dingle, Belle had removed the breakfast things, and was busy in her own encampment: nothing occurred, worthy of being related, for two hours, at the end of which time Belle departed on a short expedition, and I again found myself alone in the dingle.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:18