The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 13

Visit to the Landlord — His Mortifications — Hunter and His Clan — Resolution

On the following morning, after breakfasting with Belle, who was silent and melancholy, I left her in the dingle, and took a stroll amongst the neighbouring lanes. After some time I thought I would pay a visit to the landlord of the public house, whom I had not seen since the day when he communicated to me his intention of changing his religion. I therefore directed my steps to the house, and on entering it found the landlord standing in the kitchen. Just then two mean-looking fellows, who had been drinking at one of the tables, and who appeared to be the only customers in the house, got up, brushed past the landlord, and saying in a surly tone, ‘We shall pay you some time or other,’ took their departure. ‘That’s the way they serve me now,’ said the landlord, with a sigh. ‘Do you know those fellows,’ I demanded, ‘since you let them go away in your debt?’ ‘I know nothing about them,’ said the landlord, ‘save that they are a couple of scamps.’ ‘Then why did you let them go away without paying you?’ said I. ‘I had not the heart to stop them,’ said the landlord; ‘and, to tell you the truth, everybody serves me so now, and I suppose they are right, for a child could flog me.’ ‘Nonsense,’ said I, ‘behave more like a man, and with respect to those two fellows run after them, I will go with you, and if they refuse to pay the reckoning I will help you to shake some money out of their clothes.’ ‘Thank you,’ said the landlord; ‘but as they are gone, let them go on. What they have drank is not of much consequence.’ ‘What is the matter with you?’ said I, staring at the landlord, who appeared strangely altered; his features were wild and haggard, his formerly bluff cheeks were considerably sunken in, and his figure had lost much of its plumpness. ‘Have you changed your religion already, and has the fellow in black commanded you to fast?’ ‘I have not changed my religion yet,’ said the landlord, with a kind of shudder; ‘I am to change it publicly this day fortnight, and the idea of doing so — I do not mind telling you — preys much upon my mind; moreover, the noise of the thing has got abroad, and everybody is laughing at me, and what’s more, coming and drinking my beer, and going away without paying for it, whilst I feel myself like one bewitched, wishing but not daring to take my own part. Confound the fellow in black, I wish I had never seen him! yet what can I do without him? The brewer swears that unless I pay him fifty pounds within a fortnight he’ll send a distress warrant into the house, and take all I have. My poor niece is crying in the room above; and I am thinking of going into the stable and hanging myself; and perhaps it’s the best thing I can do, for it’s better to hang myself before selling my soul than afterwards, as I’m sure I should, like Judas Iscariot, whom my poor niece, who is somewhat religiously inclined, has been talking to me about.’ ‘I wish I could assist you,’ said I, ‘with money, but that is quite out of my power. However, I can give you a piece of advice. Don’t change your religion by any means; you can’t hope to prosper if you do; and if the brewer chooses to deal hardly with you, let him. Everybody would respect you ten times more provided you allowed yourself to be turned into the roads rather than change your religion, than if you got fifty pounds for renouncing it.’ ‘I am half inclined to take your advice,’ said the landlord, ‘only, to tell you the truth, I feel quite low, without any heart in me.’ ‘Come into the bar,’ said I, ‘and let us have something together — you need not be afraid of my not paying for what I order.’

We went into the bar-room, where the landlord and I discussed between us two bottles of strong ale, which he said were part of the last six which he had in his possession. At first he wished to drink sherry, but I begged him to do no such thing, telling him that sherry would do him no good, under the present circumstances; nor, indeed, to the best of my belief under any, it being of all wines the one for which I entertained the most contempt. The landlord allowed himself to be dissuaded, and, after a glass or two of ale, confessed that sherry was a sickly disagreeable drink, and that he had merely been in the habit of taking it from an idea he had that it was genteel. Whilst quaffing our beverage, he gave me an account of the various mortifications to which he had of late been subject, dwelling with particular bitterness on the conduct of Hunter, who he said came every night and mouthed him, and afterwards went away without paying for what he had drank or smoked, in which conduct he was closely imitated by a clan of fellows who constantly attended him. After spending several hours at the public-house I departed, not forgetting to pay for the two bottles of ale. The landlord, before I went, shaking me by the hand, declared that he had now made up his mind to stick to his religion at all hazards, the more especially as he was convinced he should derive no good by giving it up.

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