The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 10

Sunday Evening — Ursula — Action at Law — Meridiana — Married Already

I took tea that evening with Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro and Ursula, outside of their tent. Tawno was not present, being engaged with his wife in his own tabernacle; Sylvester was there, however, lolling listlessly upon the ground. As I looked upon this man, I thought him one of the most disagreeable fellows I had ever seen. His features were ugly, and, moreover, as dark as pepper; and, besides being dark, his skin was dirty. As for his dress, it was torn and sordid. His chest was broad, and his arms seemed powerful; but, upon the whole, he looked a very caitiff. ‘I am sorry that man has lost his wife,’ thought I; ‘for I am sure he will never get another.’ What surprises me is, that he ever found a woman disposed to unite her lot with his!

After tea I got up and strolled about the field. My thoughts were upon Isopel Berners. I wondered where she was, and how long she would stay away. At length becoming tired and listless, I determined to return to the dingle, and resume the reading of the Bible at the place where I had left off. ‘What better could I do,’ methought, ‘on a Sunday evening?’ I was then near the wood which surrounded the dingle, but at that side which was farthest from the encampment, which stood near the entrance. Suddenly, on turning round the southern corner of the copse, which surrounded the dingle, I perceived Ursula seated under a thorn-bush. I thought I never saw her look prettier than then, dressed as she was, in her Sunday’s best.

‘Good-evening, Ursula,’ said I; ‘I little thought to have the pleasure of seeing you here.’

‘Nor would you, brother,’ said Ursula, ‘had not Jasper told me that you had been talking about me, and wanted to speak to me under a hedge; so, hearing that, I watched your motions, and came here and sat down.’

‘I was thinking of going to my quarters in the dingle, to read the Bible, Ursula, but —’

‘Oh, pray then, go to your quarters, brother, and read the Miduveleskoe lil; 103 you can speak to me under a hedge some other time.’

‘I think I will sit down with you, Ursula; for, after all, reading godly books in dingles at eve, is rather sombre work. Yes, I think I will sit down with you;’ and I sat down by her side.

‘Well, brother, now you have sat down with me under the hedge, what have you to say to me?’

‘Why, I hardly know, Ursula.’

‘Not know, brother; a pretty fellow you to ask young women to come and sit with you under hedges, and, when they come, not know what to say to them.’

‘Oh! ah! I remember; do you know, Ursula, that I take a great interest in you?’

‘Thank ye, brother; kind of you, at any rate.’

‘You must be exposed to a great many temptations, Ursula.’

‘A great many indeed, brother. It is hard to see fine things, such as shawls, gold watches, and chains in the shops, behind the big glasses, and to know that they are not intended for one. Many’s the time I have been tempted to make a dash at them; but I bethought myself that by so doing I should cut my hands, besides being almost certain of being grabbed and sent across the gull’s bath to the foreign country.’

‘Then you think gold and fine things temptations, Ursula?’

‘Of course, brother, very great temptations; don’t you think them so?’

‘Can’t say I do, Ursula.’

‘Then more fool you, brother; but have the kindness to tell me what you would call a temptation?’

‘Why, for example, the hope of honour and renown, Ursula.’

‘The hope of honour and renown! very good, brother; but I tell you one thing, that unless you have money in your pocket, and good broadcloth on your back, you are not likely to obtain much honour and — what do you call it? amongst the gorgios, to say nothing of the Romany chals.’

‘I should have thought, Ursula, that the Romany chals, roaming about the world as they do, free and independent, were above being led by such trifles.’

‘Then you know nothing of the gypsies, brother; no people on earth are fonder of those trifles, as you call them, than the Romany chals, and more disposed to respect those who have them.’

‘Then money and fine clothes would induce you to do anything, Ursula?’

‘Ay, ay; brother, anything.’

‘To chore, 104 Ursula?’

‘Like enough, brother; gypsies have been transported before now for choring.’

‘To hokkawar?’ 105

‘Ay, ay, I was telling dukkerin only yesterday, brother.’

‘In fact, to break the law in everything?’

‘Who knows, brother, who knows? as I said before, gold and fine clothes are great temptations.’

‘Well, Ursula, I am sorry for it, I should never have thought you so depraved.’

‘Indeed, brother.’

‘To think that I am seated by one who is willing to — to —’

‘Go on, brother.’

‘To play the thief.’

‘Go on, brother.’

‘The liar.’

‘Go on, brother.’

‘The — the —’

‘Go on, brother.’

‘The — the lubbeny.’ 106

‘The what, brother?’ said Ursula, starting from her seat.

‘Why, the lubbeny; don’t you —’

‘I tell you what, brother,’ said Ursula, looking somewhat pale, and speaking very low, ‘if I had only something in my hand, I would do you a mischief.’

‘Why, what is the matter, Ursula?’ said I; ‘how have I offended you?’

‘How have you offended me? Why, didn’t you insinivate just now that I was ready to play the — the —’

‘Go on, Ursula.’

‘The — the — I’ll not say it; but I only wish I had something in my hand.’

‘If I have offended, Ursula, I am very sorry for it; any offence I may have given you was from want of understanding you. Come, pray be seated, I have much to question you about — to talk to you about.’

‘Seated, not I! It was only just now that you gave me to understand that you was ashamed to be seated by me, a thief, a liar.’

‘Well, did you not almost give me to understand that you were both, Ursula?’

‘I don’t much care being called a thief and a liar,’ said Ursula, ‘a person may be a liar and a thief, and yet a very honest woman, but —’

‘Well, Ursula.’

‘I tell you what, brother, if you ever sinivate again that I could be the third thing, so help me duvel! 107 I’ll do you a mischief. By my God I will!’

‘Well, Ursula, I assure you that I shall sinivate, as you call it, nothing of the kind about you. I have no doubt, from what you have said, that you are a very paragon of virtue — a perfect Lucretia; but —’

‘My name is Ursula, brother, and not Lucretia: Lucretia is not of our family, but one of the Bucklands; she travels about Oxfordshire; yet I am as good as she any day.’

‘Lucretia! how odd! Where could she have got that name? Well, I make no doubt, Ursula, that you are quite as good as she, and she as her namesake of ancient Rome; but there is a mystery in this same virtue, Ursula, which I cannot fathom; how a thief and a liar should be able, or indeed willing, to preserve her virtue is what I don’t understand. You confess that you are very fond of gold. Now, how is it that you don’t barter your virtue for gold sometimes? I am a philosopher, Ursula, and like to know everything. You must be every now and then exposed to great temptation, Ursula; for you are of a beauty calculated to captivate all hearts. Come, sit down and tell me how you are enabled to resist such a temptation as gold and fine clothes?’

‘Well, brother,’ said Ursula, ‘as you say you mean no harm, I will sit down beside you, and enter into discourse with you; but I will uphold that you are the coolest hand that I ever came nigh, and say the coolest things.’

And thereupon Ursula sat down by my side.

‘Well, Ursula, we will, if you please, discourse on the subject of your temptations. I suppose that you travel very much about, and show yourself in all kinds of places?’

‘In all kinds, brother; I travels, as you say, very much about, attends fairs and races, and enters booths and public-houses, where I tells fortunes, and sometimes dances and sings.’

‘And do not people often address you in a very free manner?’

‘Frequently, brother; and I give them tolerably free answers.’

‘Do people ever offer to make you presents? I mean presents of value, such as —’

‘Silk handkerchiefs, shawls, and trinkets; very frequently, brother.’

‘And what do you do, Ursula?’

‘I take what people offers me, brother, and stows it away as soon as I can.’

‘Well, but don’t people expect something for their presents? I don’t mean dukkerin, dancing, and the like; but such a moderate and innocent thing as a choomer, 108 Ursula?’

‘Innocent thing, do you call it, brother?’

‘The world calls it so, Ursula. Well, do the people who give you the fine things never expect a choomer in return?’

‘Very frequently, brother.’

‘And do you ever grant it?’

‘Never, brother.’

‘How do you avoid it?’

‘I gets away as soon as possible, brother. If they follows me, I tries to baffle them, by means of jests and laughter; and if they persist, I uses bad and terrible language, of which I have plenty in store.’

‘But if your terrible language has no effect?’

‘Then I screams for the constable, and if he comes not, I uses my teeth and nails.’

‘And are they always sufficient?’

‘I have only had to use them twice, brother; but then I found them sufficient.’

‘But suppose the person who followed you was highly agreeable, Ursula? A handsome young officer of local militia, for example, all dressed in Lincoln green, would you still refuse him the choomer?’

‘We makes no difference, brother; the daughters of the gypsy-father makes no difference; and, what’s more, sees none.’

‘Well, Ursula, the world will hardly give you credit for such indifference.’

‘What cares we for the world, brother! we are not of the world.’

‘But your fathers, brothers, and uncles, give you credit I suppose, Ursula.’

‘Ay, ay, brother, our fathers, brothers, and cokos 109 gives us all manner of credit; for example, I am telling lies and dukkerin in a public-house where my batu 110 or coko — perhaps both — are playing on the fiddle; well, my batu and my coko beholds me amongst the public-house crew, talking nonsense and hearing nonsense; but they are under no apprehension; and presently they sees the good-looking officer of militia, in his greens and Lincolns, get up and give me a wink, and I go out with him abroad, into the dark night perhaps; well, my batu and my coko goes on fiddling, just as if I were six miles off asleep in the tent, and not out in the dark street with the local officer, with his Lincolns and his greens.’

‘They know they can trust you, Ursula?’

‘Ay, ay, brother; and, what’s more, I knows I can trust myself.’

‘So you would merely go out to make a fool of him, Ursula?’

‘Merely go out to make a fool of him, brother, I assure you.’

‘But such proceedings really have an odd look, Ursula.’

‘Amongst gorgios, very so, brother.’

‘Well, it must be rather unpleasant to lose one’s character even amongst gorgios, Ursula; and suppose the officer, out of revenge for being tricked and duped by you, were to say of you the thing that is not, were to meet you on the race-course the next day, and boast of receiving favours which he never had, amidst a knot of jeering militia-men, how would you proceed, Ursula? would you not be abashed?’

‘By no means, brother; I should bring my action of law against him.’

‘Your action at law, Ursula?’

‘Yes, brother; I should give a whistle, whereupon all one’s cokos and batus, and all my near and distant relations, would leave their fiddling, dukkerin, and horse-dealing, and come flocking about me. “What’s the matter, Ursula?” says my coko. “Nothing at all,” I replies, “save and except that gorgio, in his greens and his Lincolns, says that I have played the —— with him.” “Oho, he does, Ursula,” says my coko, “try your action of law against him, my lamb,” and he puts something privily into my hands; whereupon I goes close up to the grinning gorgio, and staring him in the face, with my head pushed forward, I cries out: “You say I did what was wrong with you last night when I was out with you abroad?” “Yes,” says the local officer, “I says you did,” looking down all the time. “You are a liar,” says I, and forthwith I breaks his head with the stick which I holds behind me, and which my coko has conveyed privily into my hand.’

‘And this is your action at law, Ursula?’

‘Yes, brother, this is my action at club-law.’

‘And would your breaking the fellow’s head quite clear you of all suspicion in the eyes of your batus, cokos, and what not?’

‘They would never suspect me at all, brother, because they would know that I would never condescend to be over intimate with a gorgio; the breaking the head would be merely intended to justify Ursula in the eyes of the gorgios.’

‘And would it clear you in their eyes?’

‘Would it not, brother? When they saw the blood running down from the fellow’s cracked poll on his greens and Lincolns, they would be quite satisfied; why the fellow would not be able to show his face at fair or merry-making for a year and three-quarters.’

‘Did you ever try it, Ursula?’

‘Can’t say I ever did, brother, but it would do.’

‘And how did you ever learn such a method of proceeding?’

‘Why ‘t is advised by gypsy liri, 111 brother. It’s part of our way of settling difficulties amongst ourselves; for example, if a young Roman were to say the thing which is not respecting Ursula and himself, Ursula would call a great meeting of the people, who would all sit down in a ring, the young fellow amongst them; a coko would then put a stick in Ursula’s hand, who would then get up and go to the young fellow, and say, “Did I play the —— with you?” and were he to say “Yes,” she would crack his head before the eyes of all.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘Ursula, I was bred an apprentice to gorgio law, and of course ought to stand up for it, whenever I conscientiously can, but I must say the gypsy manner of bringing an action for defamation is much less tedious, and far more satisfactory than the gorgiko one. I wish you now to clear up a certain point which is rather mysterious to me. You say that for a Romany chi to do what is unseemly with a gorgio, is quite out of the question, yet only the other day I heard you singing a song in which a Romany chi confesses herself to be cambri 112 by a grand gorgious gentleman.’

‘A sad let down,’ said Ursula.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘sad or not, there’s the song that speaks of the thing, which you give me to understand is not.’

‘Well, if the thing ever was,’ said Ursula, ‘it was a long time ago, and perhaps after all not true.’

‘Then why do you sing the song?’

‘I’ll tell you, brother; we sings the song now and then to be a warning to ourselves to have as little to do as possible in the way of acquaintance with the gorgios; and a warning it is; you see how the young woman in the song was driven out of her tent by her mother, with all kind of disgrace and bad language; but you don’t know that she was afterwards buried alive by her cokos and pals 113 in an uninhabited place; the song doesn’t say it, but the story says it, for there is a story about it, though, as I said before, it was a long time ago, and perhaps, after all, wasn’t true.’

‘But if such a thing were to happen at present, would the cokos and pals bury the girl alive?’

‘I can’t say what they would do,’ said Ursula; ‘I suppose they are not so strict as they were long ago; at any rate she would be driven from the tan, 114 and avoided by all her family and relations as a gorgio’s acquaintance, so that, perhaps, at last, she would be glad if they would bury her alive.’

‘Well, I can conceive that there would be an objection on the part of the cokos and batus that a Romany chi should form an improper acquaintance with a gorgio, but I should think that the batus and cokos could hardly object to the chi’s entering into the honourable estate of wedlock with a gorgio.’

Ursula was silent.

‘Marriage is an honourable estate, Ursula.’

‘Well, brother, suppose it be?’

‘I don’t see why a Romany chi should object to enter into the honourable estate of wedlock with a gorgio.’

‘You don’t, brother; don’t you?’

‘No,’ said I, ‘and, moreover, I am aware, notwithstanding your evasion, Ursula, that marriages and connections now and then occur between gorgios and Romany chies; the result of which is the mixed breed called half-and-half, which is at present travelling about England, and to which the Flaming Tinman belongs, otherwise called Anselo Herne.’

‘As for the half-and-halfs,’ said Ursula, ‘they are a bad set; and there is not a worse blackguard in England than Anselo Herne.’ 115

‘All what you say may be very true, Ursula, but you admit that there are half-and-halfs.’

‘The more’s the pity, brother.’

‘Pity or not, you admit the fact; but how do you account for it?’

‘How do I account for it? Why, I will tell you, by the break up of a Roman family, brother — the father of a small family dies, and perhaps the mother, and the poor children are left behind, sometimes they are gathered up by their relations, and sometimes, if they have none, by charitable Romans, who bring them up in the observance of gypsy law; but sometimes they are not so lucky, and falls into the company of gorgios, trampers, and basket-makers, who live in caravans, with whom they take up, and so — I hate to talk of the matter, brother, but so comes this race of the half-and-halfs.’

‘Then you mean to say, Ursula, that no Romany chi, unless compelled by hard necessity, would have anything to do with a gorgio?’

‘We are not over fond of gorgios, brother, and we hates basket-makers, and folks that live in caravans.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘suppose a gorgio, who is not a basket-maker, a fine handsome gorgious gentleman, who lives in a fine house —’

‘We are not fond of houses, brother, I never slept in a house in my life.’

‘But would not plenty of money induce you?’

‘I hate houses, brother, and those who live in them.’

‘Well, suppose such a person were willing to resign his fine house, and for love of you to adopt gypsy law, speak Romany, and live in a tan, would you have nothing to say to him?’

‘Bringing plenty of money with him, brother?’

‘Well, bringing plenty of money with him, Ursula.’

‘Well, brother, suppose you produce your man; where is he?’

‘I was merely supposing such a person, Ursula.’

‘Then you don’t know of such a person, brother?’

‘Why, no, Ursula; why do you ask?’

‘Because, brother, I was almost beginning to think that you meant yourself.’

‘Myself! Ursula; I have no fine house to resign; nor have I money. Moreover, Ursula, though I have a great regard for you, and though I consider you very handsome, quite as handsome, indeed, as Meridiana in-’

‘Meridiana! where did you meet with her?’ said Ursula, with a toss of her head.

‘Why in old Pulci’s —’

‘At old Fulcher’s! that’s not true, brother. Meridiana is a Borzlam, 116 and travels with her own people, and not with old Fulcher, 117 who is a gorgio, and a basket-maker.’

‘I was not speaking of old Fulcher, but Pulci, a great Italian writer, who lived many hundred years ago, and who, in his poem called the “Morgante Maggiore,” speaks of Meridiana, the daughter of —’

‘Old Carus Borzlam,’ said Ursula; ‘but if the fellow you mention lived so many hundred years ago, how, in the name of wonder, could he know anything of Meridiana?’

‘The wonder, Ursula, is, how your people could ever have got hold of that name, and similar ones. The Meridiana of Pulci was not the daughter of old Carus Borzlam, but of Caradoro, a great pagan king of the East, who, being besieged in his capital by Manfredonio, another mighty pagan king, who wished to obtain possession of his daughter, who had refused him, was relieved in his distress by certain paladins of Charlemagne, with one of whom, Oliver, his daughter Meridiana fell in love.’

‘I see,’ said Ursula, ‘that it must have been altogether a different person, for I am sure that Meridiana Borzlam would never have fallen in love with Oliver. Oliver! why that is the name of the curo-mengro, 118 who lost the fight near the chong gav, 119 the day of the great tempest, when I got wet through. 120 No, no! Meridiana Borzlam would never have so far forgot her blood as to take up with Tom Oliver.’

‘I was not talking of that Oliver, Ursula, but of Oliver, peer of France, and paladin of Charlemagne, with whom Meridiana, daughter of Caradoro, fell in love, and for whose sake she renounced her religion and became a Christian, and finally ingravidata, or cambri, by him:

‘“E nacquene un figliuol, dice la storia,

Che dette a Carlo-man poi gran vittoria:”

which means —’

‘I don’t want to know what it means,’ said Ursula; ‘no good, I’m sure. Well, if the Meridiana of Charles’s wain’s pal was no handsomer than Meridiana Borzlam, she was no great catch, brother; for though I am by no means given to vanity, I think myself better to look at than she, though I will say she is no lubbeny, and would scorn —’

‘I make no doubt she would, Ursula, and I make no doubt that you are much handsomer than she, or even the Meridiana of Oliver. What I was about to say, before you interrupted me, is this, that though I have a great regard for you, and highly admire you, it is only in a brotherly way, and —’

‘And you had nothing better to say to me,’ said Ursula, ‘when you wanted to talk to me beneath a hedge, than that you liked me in a brotherly way! well, I declare —’

‘You seem disappointed, Ursula.’

‘Disappointed, brother! not I.’

‘You were just now saying that you disliked gorgios, so, of course, could only wish that I, who am a gorgio, should like you in a brotherly way; I wished to have a conversation with you beneath a hedge, but only with the view of procuring from you some information respecting the song which you sung the other day, and the conduct of Roman females, which has always struck me as being highly unaccountable, so, if you thought anything else —’

‘What else should I expect from a picker-up of old words, brother? Bah! I dislike a picker-up of old words worse than a picker-up of old rags.’

‘Don’t be angry, Ursula, I feel a great interest in you; you are very handsome, and very clever; indeed, with your beauty and cleverness, I only wonder that you have not long since been married.’

‘You do, do you, brother?’

‘Yes. However, keep up your spirits, Ursula, you are not much past the prime of youth, so —’

‘Not much past the prime of youth! Don’t be uncivil, brother, I was only twenty-two last month.’

‘Don’t be offended, Ursula, but twenty-two is twenty-two, or, I should rather say, that twenty-two, in a woman is more than twenty-six in a man. You are still very beautiful, but I advise you to accept the first offer that’s made to you.’

‘Thank you, brother, but your advice comes rather late; I accepted the first offer that was made me five years ago.’

‘You married five years ago, Ursula! is it possible?’

‘Quite possible, brother, I assure you.’

‘And how came I to know nothing about it?’

‘How comes it that you don’t know many thousand things about the Romans, brother? Do you think they tell you all their affairs?’

‘Married Ursula! married! Well, I declare!’

‘You seem disappointed, brother.’

‘Disappointed! Oh! no, not at all; but Jasper, only a few weeks ago, told me that you were not married; and, indeed, almost gave me to understand that you would be very glad to get a husband.’

‘And you believed him? I’ll tell you, brother, for your instruction, that there is not in the whole world a greater liar than Jasper Petulengro.’

‘I am sorry to hear it, Ursula; but with respect to him you married — who might he be? A gorgio, or a Romany chal?’

‘Gorgio, or Romany chal? Do you think I would ever condescend to a gorgio? It was a Camomescro, 121 brother, a Lovell, a distant relation of my own.’

‘And where is he, and what became of him? Have you any family?’

‘Don’t think I am going to tell you all my history, brother; and, to tell you the truth, I am tired of sitting under hedges with you, talking nonsense. I shall go to my house.’

‘Do sit a little longer, sister Ursula. I most heartily congratulate you on your marriage. But where is this same Lovell? I have never seen him: I should wish to congratulate him, too. You are quite as handsome as the Meridiana of Pulci, Ursula, ay, or the Despina of Riciardetto. Riciardetto, Ursula, is a poem written by one Fortiguerra, about ninety years ago, in imitation of the Morgante of Pulci. It treats of the wars of Charlemagne and his Paladins with various barbarous nations, who came to besiege Paris. Despina was the daughter and heiress of Scricca, King of Cafria; she was the beloved of Riciardetto, and was beautiful as an angel; but I make no doubt you are quite as handsome as she.’

‘Brother,’ said Ursula — but the reply of Ursula I reserve for another chapter, the present having attained to rather an uncommon length, for which, however, the importance of the matter discussed is a sufficient apology.

103 ‘My God’s book,’ the Bible.

104 Steal.

105 Better hokker, ‘lie.’

106 Harlot.

107 God.

108 Kiss.

109 Uncles.

110 Father (Spanish Gy.); the true word is dad.

111 Law (Spanish Gy.).

112 Enceinte.

113 Uncles and brothers.

114 Tent.

115 Generally speaking, there is no purer gypsy clan than the Hernes.

116 Read ‘Boswell.’

117 See pp. 261–264.

118 Fighting-man.

119 Hill-town, i.e., Norfolk.

120 July 17, 1820. See ‘Lavengro,’ chap. xxvi.

121 Lovell.

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