The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 15

The Dawn of Day — The Last Farewell — Departure for the Fair — The Fine Horse — Return to the Dingle — No Isopel

It was about the dawn of day when I was awakened by the voice of Mr. Petulengro shouting from the top of the dingle, and bidding me get up. I arose instantly, and dressed myself for the expedition to the fair. On leaving my tent, I was surprised to observe Belle, entirely dressed, standing close to her own little encampment. ‘Dear me,’ said I, ‘I little expected to find you up so early. I suppose Jasper’s call awakened you, as it did me.’ ‘I merely lay down in my things,’ said Belle, ‘and have not slept during the night.’ ‘And why did you not take off your things and go to sleep?’ said I. ‘I did not undress,’ said Belle, ‘because I wished to be in readiness to bid you farewell when you departed; and as for sleeping I could not.’ ‘Well, God bless you!’ said I, taking Belle by the hand. Belle made no answer, and I observed that her hand was very cold. ‘What is the matter with you?’ said I, looking her in the face. Belle looked at me for a moment in the eyes, and then cast down her own — her features were very pale. ‘You are really unwell,’ said I, ‘I had better not go to the fair, but stay here, and take care of you.’ ‘No,’ said Belle, ‘pray go, I am not unwell.’ ‘Then go to your tent,’ said I, ‘and do not endanger your health by standing abroad in the raw morning air. God bless you, Belle, I shall be home to-night, by which time I expect you will have made up your mind, if not, another lesson in Armenian, however late the hour be.’ I then wrung Belle’s hand, and ascended to the plain above.

I found the Romany party waiting for me, and everything in readiness for departing. Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno were mounted on two old horses. The rest, who intended to go to the fair, amongst whom were two or three women, were on foot. On arriving at the extremity of the plain, I looked towards the dingle. Isopel Berners stood at the mouth, the beams of the early morning sun shone full on her noble face and figure. I waved my hand towards her. She slowly lifted up her right arm. I turned away, and never saw Isopel Berners again.

My companions and myself proceeded on our way. In about two hours we reached the place where the fair was to be held. After breakfasting on bread and cheese and ale behind a broken stone wall, we drove our animals to the fair. The fair was a common cattle and horse fair: there was little merriment going on, but there was no lack of business. By about two o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Petulengro and his people had disposed of their animals at what they conceived very fair prices — they were all in high spirits, and Jasper proposed to adjourn to a public-house. As we were proceeding to one, a very fine horse, led by a jockey, made its appearance on the ground. Mr. Petulengro stopped short, and looked at it steadfastly: ‘Fino covar dove odoy sas miro 130 — a fine thing were that, if it were but mine!’ he exclaimed. ‘If you covet it,’ said I, ‘why do you not purchase it?’ ‘We low gyptians never buy animals of that description; if we did we could never sell them, and most likely should be had up as horse-stealers.’ ‘Then why did you say just now, “It were a fine thing if it were but yours?”’ said I. ‘We gyptians always say so when we see anything that we admire. An animal like that is not intended for a little hare like me, but for some grand gentleman like yourself. I say, brother, do you buy that horse!’ ‘How should I buy the horse, you foolish person!’ said I. ‘Buy the horse, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘if you have not the money I can lend it you; though I be of lower Egypt.’ ‘You talk nonsense,’ said I; ‘however, I wish you would ask the man the price of it.’ Mr. Petulengro, going up to the jockey, inquired the price of the horse — the man, looking at him scornfully, made no reply. ‘Young man,’ said I, going up to the jockey, ‘do me the favour to tell me the price of that horse, as I suppose it is to sell.’ The jockey, who was a surly-looking man, of about fifty, looked at me for a moment, then, after some hesitation, said, laconically, ‘Seventy.’ ‘Thank you,’ said I, and turned away. ‘Buy that horse,’ said Mr. Petulengro, coming after me; ‘the dook tells me that in less than three months he will be sold for twice seventy.’ ‘I will have nothing to do with him,’ said I; ‘besides, Jasper, I don’t like his tail. Did you observe what a mean scrubby tail he has?’ ‘What a fool you are, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘that very tail of his shows his breeding. No good bred horse ever yet carried a fine tail —’tis your scrubby-tailed horses that are your out-and-outers. Did you ever hear of Syntax, brother? That tail of his puts me in mind of Syntax. Well, I say nothing more, have your own way — all I wonder at is, that a horse like him was ever brought to such a fair of dog cattle as this.’

We then made the best of our way to a public-house, where we had some refreshment. I then proposed returning to the encampment, but Mr. Petulengro declined, and remained drinking with his companions till about six o’clock in the evening, when various jockeys from the fair came in. After some conversation a jockey proposed a game of cards; and in a little time, Mr. Petulengro and another gypsy sat down to play a game of cards with two of the jockeys.

Though not much acquainted with cards, I soon conceived a suspicion that the jockeys were cheating Mr. Petulengro and his companion, I therefore called Mr. Petulengro aside, and gave him a hint to that effect. Mr. Petulengro, however, instead of thanking me, told me to mind my own bread and butter, and forthwith returned to his game. I continued watching the players for some hours. The gypsies lost considerably, and I saw clearly that the jockeys were cheating them most confoundedly. I therefore once more called Mr. Petulengro aside, and told him that the jockeys were cheating him, conjuring him to return to the encampment. Mr. Petulengro, who was by this time somewhat the worse for liquor, now fell into a passion, swore several oaths, and asking me who had made me a Moses over him and his brethren, told me to return to the encampment by myself. Incensed at the unworthy return which my well-meant words received, I forthwith left the house, and having purchased a few articles of provision, I set out for the dingle alone. It was dark night when I reached it, and descending I saw the glimmer of a fire from the depths of the dingle; my heart beat with fond anticipation of a welcome. ‘Isopel Berners is waiting for me,’ said I, ‘and the first word that I shall hear from her lips is that she has made up her mind. We shall go to America, and be so happy together.’ On reaching the bottom of the dingle, however, I saw seated near the fire, not Isopel Berners, but a gypsy girl, who told me that Miss Berners when she went away had charged her to keep up the fire, and have a kettle boiling against my arrival. Startled at these words, I inquired at what hour Isopel had left, and whither she was gone, and was told that she had left the dingle, with her cart, about two hours after I departed; but where she was gone she (the girl) did not know. I then asked whether she had left no message, and the girl replied that she had left none, but had merely given directions about the kettle and fire, putting, at the same time, sixpence into her hand. ‘Very strange,’ thought I; then dismissing the gypsy girl I sat down by the fire. I had no wish for tea, but sat looking on the embers, wondering what could be the motive of the sudden departure of Isopel. ‘Does she mean to return?’ thought I to myself. ‘Surely she means to return,’ Hope replied, ‘or she would not have gone away without leaving any message’—‘and yet she could scarcely mean to return,’ muttered Foreboding, ‘or she would assuredly have left some message with the girl.’ I then thought to myself what a hard thing it would be, if, after having made up my mind to assume the yoke of matrimony, I should be disappointed of the woman of my choice. ‘Well, after all,’ thought I, ‘I can scarcely be disappointed; if such an ugly scoundrel as Sylvester had no difficulty in getting such a nice wife as Ursula, surely I, who am not a tenth part so ugly, cannot fail to obtain the hand of Isopel Berners, uncommonly fine damsel though she be. Husbands do not grow upon hedge-rows; she is merely gone after a little business and will return tomorrow.’

Comforted in some degree by these hopeful imaginings, I retired to my tent, and went to sleep.

130 Borrow quotes this sentence, with an added expletive, in his ‘Romano Lavo–Lil,’ p. 110.

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