The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 17

The Public-House — Landlord on His Legs Again — A Blow in Season — The Way of The World — The Grateful Mind — The Horse’s Neigh

It was rather late on the following morning when I awoke. At first I was almost unconscious of what had occurred on the preceding day; recollection, however, by degrees returned, and I felt a deep melancholy coming over me, but perfectly aware that no advantage could be derived from the indulgence of such a feeling, I sprang up, prepared my breakfast, which I ate with a tolerable appetite, and then left the dingle, and betook myself to the gypsy encampment, where I entered into discourse with various Romanies, both male and female. After some time, feeling myself in better spirits, I determined to pay another visit to the landlord of the public-house. From the position of his affairs when I had last visited him, I entertained rather gloomy ideas with respect to his present circumstances. I imagined that I should either find him alone in his kitchen smoking a wretched pipe, or in company with some surly bailiff or his follower, whom his friend the brewer had sent into the house in order to take possession of his effects.

Nothing more entirely differing from either of these anticipations could have presented itself to my view than what I saw about one o’clock in the afternoon, when I entered the house. I had come, though somewhat in want of consolation myself, to offer any consolation which was at my command to my acquaintance Catchpole, and perhaps, like many other people who go to a house with ‘drops of compassion trembling on their eyelids,’ I felt rather disappointed at finding that no compassion was necessary. The house was thronged with company, the cries for ale and porter, hot brandy and water, cold gin and water, were numerous; moreover, no desire to receive and not to pay for the landlord’s liquids was manifested — on the contrary, everybody seemed disposed to play the most honourable part: ‘Landlord, here’s the money for this glass of brandy and water — do me the favour to take it; all right, remember I have paid you.’ ‘Landlord, here’s the money for the pint of half-and-half — four-pence halfpenny, a’nt it? — here’s sixpence, keep the change — confound the change!’ The landlord, assisted by his niece, bustled about; his brow erect, his cheeks plumped out, and all his features exhibiting a kind of surly satisfaction. Wherever he moved, marks of the most cordial amity were shown him, hands were thrust out to grasp his, nor were looks of respect, admiration, nay almost of adoration, wanting. I observed one fellow, as the landlord advanced, take the pipe out of his mouth, and gaze upon him with a kind of grin of wonder, probably much the same as his ancestor, the Saxon lout of old, put on when he saw his idol Thur dressed in a new kirtle. To avoid the press, I got into a corner, where, on a couple of chairs, sat two respectable-looking individuals, whether farmers or sow-gelders, I know not, but highly respectable-looking, who were discoursing about the landlord. ‘Such another,’ said one, ‘you will not find in a summer’s day.’ ‘No, nor in the whole of England,’ said the other. ‘Tom of Hopton,’ said the first; ‘ah! Tom of Hopton,’ echoed the other; ‘the man who could beat Tom of Hopton could beat the world.’ ‘I glory in him,’ said the first. ‘So do I,’ said the second, ‘I’ll back him against the world. Let me hear any one say anything against him, and if I don’t —’ then, looking at me, he added, ‘have you anything to say against him, young man?’ ‘Not a word,’ said I, ‘save that he regularly puts me out.’ ‘He’ll put any one out,’ said the man, ‘any one out of conceit with himself;’ then, lifting a mug to his mouth, he added, with a hiccough, ‘I drink his health.’ Presently the landlord, as he moved about, observing me, stopped short: ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘are you here? I am glad to see you, come this way. Stand back,’ said he to his company, as I followed him to the bar, ‘stand back for me and this gentleman.’ Two or three young fellows were in the bar, seemingly sporting yokels, drinking sherry and smoking. ‘Come, gentlemen,’ said the landlord, ‘clear the bar, I must have a clear bar for me and my friend here.’ ‘Landlord, what will you take?’ said one —‘a glass of sherry? I know you like it.’ ‘—— sherry and you too,’ said the landlord; ‘I want neither sherry nor yourself; didn’t you hear what I told you?’ ‘All right, old fellow,’ said the other, shaking the landlord by the hand —‘all right; don’t wish to intrude — but I suppose when you and your friend have done I may come in again.’ Then, with ‘A sarvant, sir,’ to me, he took himself into the kitchen, followed by the rest of the sporting yokels.

Thereupon the landlord, taking a bottle of ale from a basket, uncorked it, and pouring the contents into two large glasses, handed me one, and motioning me to sit down, placed himself by me; then, emptying his own glass at a draught, he gave a kind of grunt of satisfaction, and fixing his eyes upon the opposite side of the bar, remained motionless, without saying a word, buried apparently in important cogitations. With respect to myself, I swallowed my ale more leisurely, and was about to address my friend, when his niece, coming into the bar, said that more and more customers were arriving, and how she should supply their wants she did not know, unless her uncle would get up and help her.

‘The customers!’ said the landlord, ‘let the scoundrels wait till you have time to serve them, or till I have leisure to see after them.’ ‘The kitchen won’t contain half of them,’ said his niece. ‘Then let them sit out abroad,’ said the landlord. ‘But there are not benches enough, uncle,’ said the niece. ‘Then let them stand or sit on the ground,’ said the uncle; ‘what care I? I’ll let them know that the man who beat Tom of Hopton stands as well again on his legs as ever.’ Then, opening a side door which led from the bar into the back-yard, he beckoned me to follow him. ‘You treat your customers in rather a cavalier manner,’ said I, when we were alone together in the yard.

‘Don’t I?’ said the landlord; ‘and I’ll treat them more so yet; now I have got the whip-hand of the rascals I intend to keep it. I dare say you are a bit surprised with regard to the change which has come over things since you were last here. I’ll tell you how it happened. You remember in what a desperate condition you found me, thinking of changing my religion, selling my soul to the man in black, and then going and hanging myself like Pontius Pilate; and I dare say you can’t have forgotten how you gave me good advice, made me drink ale, and give up sherry. Well, after you were gone, I felt all the better for your talk, and what you had made me drink, and it was a mercy that I did feel better, for my niece was gone out, poor thing! and I was left alone in the house, without a soul to look at, or to keep me from doing myself a mischief in case I was so inclined. Well, things wore on in this way till it grew dusk, when in came that blackguard Hunter with his train to drink at my expense, and to insult me as usual; there were more than a dozen of them, and a pretty set they looked. Well, they ordered about in a very free and easy manner for upwards of an hour and a half, occasionally sneering and jeering at me, as they had been in the habit of doing for some time past; so, as I said before, things wore on, and other customers came in, who, though they did not belong to Hunter’s gang, also passed off their jokes upon me; for, as you perhaps know, we English are a set of low hounds, who will always take part with the many by way of making ourselves safe, and currying favour with the stronger side. I said little or nothing, for my spirits had again become very low, and I was verily scared and afraid. All of a sudden I thought of the ale which I had drank in the morning, and of the good it did me then, so I went into the bar, opened another bottle, took a glass, and felt better; so I took another, and feeling better still, I went back into the kitchen just as Hunter and his crew were about leaving. “Mr. Hunter,” said I, “you and your people will please to pay me for what you have had?” “What do you mean by my people?” said he, with an oath. “Ah! what do you mean by calling us his people?” said the clan. “We are nobody’s people;” and then there was a pretty load of abuse, and threatening to serve me out. “Well,” said I, “I was perhaps wrong to call them your people, and beg your pardon and theirs. And now you will please to pay me for what you have had yourself, and afterwards I can settle with them.” “I shall pay you when I think fit,” said Hunter. “Yes,” said the rest, “and so shall we. We shall pay you when we think fit.” “I tell you what,” said Hunter, “I conceives I do such an old fool as you an honour when I comes into his house and drinks his beer, and goes away without paying for it,” and then there was a roar of laughter from everybody, and almost all said the same thing. “Now do you please to pay me, Mr. Hunter?” said I. “Pay you!” said Hunter —“pay you! Yes, here’s the pay,” and thereupon he held out his thumb, twirling it round till it just touched my nose. I can’t tell you what I felt that moment; a kind of madhouse thrill came upon me, and all I know is, that I bent back as far as I could, then lunging out, struck him under the ear, sending him reeling two or three yards, when he fell on the floor. I wish you had but seen how my company looked at me and at each other. One or two of the clan went to raise Hunter, and get him to fight, but it was no go; though he was not killed, he had had enough for that evening. Oh, I wish you had seen my customers; those who did not belong to the clan, but had taken part with them, and helped to jeer and flout me, now came and shook me by the hand, wishing me joy, and saying as how “I was a brave fellow, and had served the bully right!” As for the clan, they all said Hunter was bound to do me justice; so they made him pay me what he owed for himself, and the reckoning of those among them who said they had no money. Two or three of them then led him away, while the rest stayed behind, and flattered me, and worshipped me, and called Hunter all kinds of dogs’ names. What do you think of that?’

‘Why,’ said I, ‘it makes good what I read in a letter which I received yesterday. It is just the way of the world.’

‘Ain’t it!’ said the landlord. ‘Well, that ain’t all; let me go on. Good fortune never yet came alone. In about an hour comes home my poor niece, almost in high sterricks with joy, smiling and sobbing. She had been to the clergyman of M—— the great preacher, to whose church she was in the habit of going, and to whose daughters she was well known; and to him she told a lamentable tale about my distresses, and about the snares which had been laid for my soul; and so well did she plead my cause, and so strong did the young ladies back all she said, that the good clergyman promised to stand my friend, and to lend me sufficient money to satisfy the brewer, and to get my soul out of the snares of the man in black; and sure enough the next morning the two young ladies brought me the fifty pounds, which I forthwith carried to the brewer, who was monstrously civil, saying that he hoped any little misunderstanding we had had would not prevent our being good friends in future. That ain’t all, the people of the neighbouring country hearing as if by art witchcraft that I had licked Hunter, and was on good terms with the brewer, forthwith began to come in crowds to look at me, pay me homage, and be my customers. Moreover, fifty scoundrels who owed me money, and who would have seen me starve rather than help me as long as they considered me a down pin, remembered their debts, and came and paid me more than they owed. That ain’t all; the brewer, being about to establish a stage-coach and three, to run across the country, says it shall stop and change horses at my house, and the passengers breakfast and sup as it goes and returns. He wishes me — whom he calls the best man in England — to give his son lessons in boxing, which he says he considers a fine manly English art, and a great defence against Popery — notwithstanding that only a month ago, when he considered me a down pin, he was in the habit of railing against it as a blackguard practice, and against me as a blackguard for following it: so I am going to commence with young hopeful tomorrow.’

‘I really cannot help congratulating you on your good fortune,’ said I.

‘That ain’t all,’ said the landlord. ‘This very morning the folks of our parish made me churchwarden, 133 which they would no more have done a month ago, when they considered me a down pin, than they —’

‘Mercy upon us!’ said I, ‘if fortune pours in upon you in this manner, who knows but that within a year they may make you justice of the peace.’

‘Who knows, indeed!’ said the landlord. ‘Well, I will prove myself worthy of my good luck by showing the grateful mind — not to those who would be kind to me now, but to those who were, when the days were rather gloomy. My customers shall have abundance of rough language, but I’ll knock any one down who says anything against the clergyman who lent me the fifty pounds, or against the Church of England, of which he is parson and I am churchwarden. I am also ready to do anything in reason for him who paid me for the ale he drank, when I shouldn’t have had the heart to collar him for the money had he refused to pay; who never jeered or flouted me like the rest of my customers when I was a down pin — and though he refused to fight cross for me, was never cross with me, but listened to all I had to say, and gave me all kinds of good advice. Now who do you think I mean by this last? why, who but yourself — who on earth but yourself? The parson is a good man and a great preacher, and I’ll knock anybody down who says to the contrary; and I mention him first, because why: he’s a gentleman, and you a tinker. But I am by no means sure you are not the best friend of the two; for I doubt, do you see, whether I should have had the fifty pounds but for you. You persuaded me to give up that silly drink they call sherry, and drink ale; and what was it but drinking ale which gave me courage to knock down that fellow Hunter — and knocking him down was, I verily believe, the turning point of my disorder. God don’t love those who won’t strike out for themselves; and as far as I can calculate with respect to time, it was just the moment after I had knocked down Hunter, that the parson consented to lend me the money, and everything began to grow civil to me. So, dash my buttons if I show the ungrateful mind to you! I don’t offer to knock anybody down for you, because why — I daresay you can knock a body down yourself; but I’ll offer something more to the purpose; as my business is wonderfully on the increase, I shall want somebody to help me in serving my customers, and keeping them in order. If you choose to come and serve for your board, and what they’ll give you, give me your fist; or if you like ten shillings a week better than their sixpences and ha’pence, only say so — though, to be open with you, I believe you would make twice ten shillings out of them — the sneaking, fawning, curry-favouring humbugs!’

‘I am much obliged to you,’ said I, ‘for your handsome offer, which, however, I am obliged to decline.’

‘Why so?’ said the landlord.

‘I am not fit for service,’ said I; ‘moreover, I am about to leave this part of the country.’ As I spoke, a horse neighed in the stable. ‘What horse is that?’ said I.

‘It belongs to a cousin of mine, who put it into my hands yesterday, in hopes that I might get rid of it for him, though he would no more have done so a week ago, when he considered me a down pin, than he would have given the horse away. Are you fond of horses?’

‘Very much,’ said I.

‘Then come and look at it.’ He led me into the stable, where, in a stall, stood a noble-looking animal.

‘Dear me,’ said I, ‘I saw this horse at —— fair.’

‘Like enough,’ said the landlord; ‘he was there, and was offered for seventy pounds, but didn’t find a bidder at any price. What do you think of him?’

‘He’s a splendid creature.’

‘I am no judge of horses,’ said the landlord; ‘but I am told he’s a first-rate trotter, good leaper, and has some of the blood of Syntax. What does all that signify? — the game is against his master, who is a down pin, is thinking of emigrating, and wants money confoundedly. He asked seventy pounds at the fair; but, between ourselves, he would be glad to take fifty here.’

‘I almost wish,’ said I, ‘that I were a rich squire.’

‘You would buy him then,’ said the landlord. Here he mused for some time, with a very profound look. ‘It would be a rum thing,’ said he, ‘if, some time or other that horse should come into your hands. Didn’t you hear how he neighed when you talked about leaving the country. My granny was a wise woman, and was up to all kind of signs and wonders, sounds and noises, the interpretation of the language of birds and animals, crowing and lowing, neighing and braying. If she had been here, she would have said at once that that horse was fated to carry you away. On that point, however, I can say nothing, for under fifty pounds no one can have him. Are you taking that money out of your pocket to pay me for the ale? That won’t do; nothing to pay; I invited you this time. Now, if you are going, you had best get into the road through the yard-gate. I won’t trouble you to make your way through the kitchen and my fine-weather company — confound them!’

133 Rather late for an Easter vestry meeting!

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