The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 14

Preparations for the Fair — The Last Lesson — The Verb Siriel

It might be about five in the evening when I reached the gypsy encampment. Here I found Mr. Petulengro, Tawno Chickno, Sylvester, and others, in a great bustle, clipping and trimming certain ponies and old horses which they had brought with them. On inquiring of Jasper the reason of their being so engaged, he informed me that they were getting the horses ready for a fair, which was to be held on the morrow, at a place some miles distant, at which they should endeavour to dispose of them, adding —‘Perhaps, brother, you will go with us, provided you have nothing better to do?’ Not having any particular engagement, I assured him that I should have great pleasure in being of the party. It was agreed that we should start early on the following morning. Thereupon I descended into the dingle. Belle was sitting before the fire, at which the kettle was boiling. ‘Were you waiting for me?’ I inquired. ‘Yes,’ said Belle, ‘I thought that you would come, and I waited for you.’ ‘That was very kind,’ said I. ‘Not half so kind,’ said she, ‘as it was of you to get everything ready for me in the dead of last night, when there was scarcely a chance of my coming.’ The tea-things were brought forward, and we sat down. ‘Have you been far?’ said Belle. ‘Merely to that public-house,’ said I, ‘to which you directed me on the second day of our acquaintance.’ ‘Young men should not make a habit of visiting public-houses,’ said Belle, ‘they are bad places.’ ‘They may be so to some people,’ said I, ‘but I do not think the worst public-house in England could do me any harm.’ ‘Perhaps you are so bad already,’ said Belle, with a smile, ‘that it would be impossible to spoil you.’ ‘How dare you catch at my words?’ said I; ‘come, I will make you pay for doing so — you shall have this evening the longest lesson in Armenian which I have yet inflicted upon you.’ ‘You may well say inflicted,’ said Belle, ‘but pray spare me. I do not wish to hear anything about Armenian, especially this evening.’ ‘Why this evening?’ said I. Belle made no answer. ‘I will not spare you,’ said I; ‘this evening I intend to make you conjugate an Armenian verb.’ ‘Well, be it so,’ said Belle; ‘for this evening you shall command.’ ‘To command is hramahyel,’ said I. ‘Ram her ill, indeed,’ said Belle; ‘I do not wish to begin with that.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘as we have come to the verbs, we will begin regularly; hramahyel is a verb of the second conjugation. We will begin with the first.’ ‘First of all tell me,’ said Belle, ‘what a verb is?’ ‘A part of speech,’ said I, ‘which, according to the dictionary, signifies some action or passion — for example, I command you, or I hate you.’ ‘I have given you no cause to hate me,’ said Belle, looking me sorrowfully in the face.

‘I was merely giving two examples,’ said I, ‘and neither was directed at you. In those examples, to command and hate are verbs. Belle, in Armenian there are four conjugations of verbs; the first end in el, the second in yel, the third in oul, and the fourth in il. Now, have you understood me?’

‘I am afraid, indeed, it will all end ill,’ said Belle. ‘Hold your tongue,’ said I, ‘or you will make me lose my patience.’ ‘You have already made me nearly lose mine,’ said Belle. ‘Let us have no unprofitable interruptions,’ said I. ‘The conjugations of the Armenian verbs are neither so numerous nor so difficult as the declensions of the nouns; hear that, and rejoice. Come, we will begin with the verb hntal, a verb of the first conjugation, which signifies to rejoice. Come along; hntam, I rejoice; hntas, thou rejoicest: why don’t you follow, Belle?’

‘I am sure I don’t rejoice, whatever you may do,’ said Belle. ‘The chief difficulty, Belle,’ said I, ‘that I find in teaching you the Armenian grammar, proceeds from your applying to yourself and me every example I give. Rejoice, in this instance, is merely an example of an Armenian verb of the first conjugation, and has no more to do with your rejoicing than lal, which is also a verb of the first conjugation, and which signifies to weep, would have to do with your weeping, provided I made you conjugate it. Come along; hntam, I rejoice; hntas, thou rejoicest, hnta, he rejoices; hntamk, we rejoice: now, repeat those words.’

‘I can’t,’ said Belle, ‘they sound more like the language of horses than of human beings. Do you take me for —?’ ‘For what?’ said I. Belle was silent. ‘Were you going to say mare?’ said I. ‘Mare! mare! by-the-by, do you know, Belle, that mare in old English stands for woman; and that when we call a female an evil mare, the strict meaning of the term is merely bad woman. So if I were to call you mare, without prefixing bad, you must not be offended.’ ‘But I should, though,’ said Belle. ‘I was merely attempting to make you acquainted with a philological fact,’ said I. ‘If mare, which in old English, and likewise in vulgar English, signifies a woman, sounds the same as mare, which in modern and polite English signifies a female horse, I can’t help it. There is no confusion of sounds in Armenian, not, at least, in the same instance. Belle, in Armenian, woman is ghin, the same word, by-the-by, a sour queen, whereas mare is madagh tzi, which signifies a female horse; and perhaps you will permit me to add that a hard-mouthed jade is, in Armenian, madagh tzi hsdierah.’

‘I can’t bear this much longer,’ said Belle. ‘Keep yourself quiet,’ said I; ‘I wish to be gentle with you; and to convince you, we will skip hntal, and also for the present verbs of the first conjugation, and proceed to the second. Belle, I will now select for you to conjugate the prettiest verb in Armenian; not only of the second, but also of all the four conjugations; that verb is siriel. Here is the present tense: siriem, siries, sire, siriemk, sirek, sirien. You observe that it runs on just in the same manner as hntal, save and except that e is substituted for a; and it will be as well to tell you that almost the only difference between the second, third, and fourth conjugations, and the first, is the substituting in the present, preterite, and other tenses, e, or ou, or i for a; so you see that the Armenian verbs are by no means difficult. Come on, Belle, and say siriem.’ Belle hesitated. ‘Pray oblige me, Belle, by saying siriem!’ Belle still appeared to hesitate. ‘You must admit, Belle, that it is much softer than hntam.’ ‘It is so,’ said Belle; ‘and to oblige you, I will say siriem.’ ‘Very well indeed, Belle,’ said I. ‘No vartabied, or doctor, could have pronounced it better; and now, to show you how verbs act upon pronouns in Armenian, I will say siriem zkiez. Please to repeat siriem zkiez!’ ‘Siriem zkiez!’ said Belle, ‘that last word is very hard to say.’ ‘Sorry that you think so, Belle,’ said I. ‘Now please to say siria zis.’ Belle did so. ‘Exceedingly well,’ said I. ‘Now say yerani the sireir zis.’ ‘Yerani the sireir zis,’ said Belle. ‘Capital!’ said I; ‘you have now said, I love you — love me — ah! would that you would love me!’

‘And I have said all these things?’ said Belle. ‘Yes,’ said I; ‘you have said them in Armenian.’ ‘I would have said them in no language that I understood,’ said Belle; ‘and it was very wrong of you to take advantage of my ignorance, and make me say such things.’ ‘Why so?’ said I; ‘if you said them, I said them too.’ ‘You did so,’ said Belle; ‘but I believe you were merely bantering and jeering.’ ‘As I told you before, Belle,’ said I, ‘the chief difficulty which I find in teaching you Armenian proceeds from your persisting in applying to yourself and me every example I give.’ ‘Then you meant nothing after all?’ said Belle, raising her voice. ‘Let us proceed,’ said I; ‘sirietsi, I loved.’ ‘You never loved any one but yourself,’ said Belle; ‘and what’s more —’ ‘Sirietsits, I will love,’ said I, ‘siriestsies, thou wilt love.’ ‘Never one so thoroughly heartless,’ said Belle. ‘I tell you what, Belle, you are becoming intolerable; but we will change the verb, or rather I will now proceed to tell you here, that some of the Armenian conjugations have their anomalies; one species of these I wish to bring before your notice. As old Villotte 129 says — from whose work I first contrived to pick up the rudiments of Armenian —“Est verborum transitivorum, quorum infinitivus —” But I forgot, you don’t understand Latin. He says there are certain transitive verbs, whose infinitive is in out-saniel; the preterite in outsi; the imperative in oue: for example, parghatsoutsaniem, I irritate —’

‘You do, you do!’ said Belle; ‘and it will be better for both of us, if you leave off doing so.’

‘You would hardly believe, Belle,’ said I, ‘that the Armenian is in some respects closely connected with the Irish, but so it is; for example, that word parghatsoutsaniem is evidently derived from the same root as feargaim, which, in Irish, is as much as to say I vex.’

‘You do, indeed!’ said Belle, sobbing.

‘But how do you account for it?’

‘O man, man!’ said Belle, bursting into tears, ‘for what purpose do you ask a poor ignorant girl such a question, unless it be to vex and irritate her? If you wish to display your learning, do so to the wise and instructed, and not to me, who can scarcely read or write. Oh, leave off your nonsense; yet I know you will not do so, for it is the breath of your nostrils! I could have wished we should have parted in kindness, but you will not permit it. I have deserved better at your hands than such treatment. The whole time we have kept company together in this place, I have scarcely had one kind word from you, but the strangest —’ And here the voice of Belle was drowned in her sobs.

‘I am sorry to see you take on so, dear Belle,’ said I. ‘I really have given you no cause to be so unhappy. Surely teaching you a little Armenian was a very innocent kind of diversion.’

‘Yes, but you went on so long, and in such a strange way, and made me repeat such strange examples, as you call them, that I could not bear it.’

‘Why, to tell you the truth, Belle, it’s my way; and I have dealt with you just as I would with —’

‘A hard-mouthed jade,’ said Belle, ‘and you practising your horse-witchery upon her. I have been of an unsubdued spirit, I acknowledge, but I was always kind to you; and if you have made me cry, it’s a poor thing to boast of.’

‘Boast of!’ said I; ‘a pretty thing indeed to boast of; I had no idea of making you cry. Come, I beg your pardon: what more can I do? Come, cheer up, Belle. You were talking of parting; don’t let us part, but depart, and that together.’

‘Our ways lie different,’ said Belle.

‘I don’t see why they should,’ said I. ‘Come, let us be off to America together.’

‘To America together?’ said Belle, looking full at me.

‘Yes,’ said I; ‘where we will settle down in some forest, and conjugate the verb siriel conjugally.’

‘Conjugally?’ said Belle.

‘Yes,’ said I; ‘as man and wife in America, air yew ghin.’

‘You are jesting as usual,’ said Belle.

‘Not I, indeed. Come, Belle, make up your mind, and let us be off to America; and leave priests, humbug, learning, and languages behind us.’

‘I don’t think you are jesting,’ said Belle; ‘but I can hardly entertain your offers. However, young man, I thank you.’

‘You had better make up your mind at once,’ said I, ‘and let us be off. I shan’t make a bad husband, I assure you. Perhaps you think I am not worthy of you? To convince you, Belle, that I am, I am ready to try a fall with you this moment upon the grass. Brynhilda, the valkyrie, swore that no one should marry her who could not fling her down. Perhaps you have done the same. The man who eventually married her, got a friend of his, who was called Sygurd, the serpent-killer, to wrestle with her, disguising him in his own armour. Sygurd flung her down, and won her for his friend, though he loved her himself. I shall not use a similar deceit, nor employ Jasper Petulengro to personate me — so get up, Belle, and I will do my best to fling you down.’

‘I require no such thing of you, or anybody,’ said Belle; ‘you are beginning to look rather wild.’

‘I every now and then do,’ said I. ‘Come, Belle, what do you say?’

‘I will say nothing at present on the subject,’ said Belle; ‘I must have time to consider.’

‘Just as you please,’ said I, ‘tomorrow I go to a fair with Mr. Petulengro — perhaps you will consider whilst I am away. Come, Belle, let us have some more tea. I wonder whether we shall be able to procure tea as good as this in the American forest.’

129 ‘Dictionarium novum Latino–Armenium.’ Fo., Romae, 1714.

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