The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 19

Trying the Horse — The Feats of Tawno — Man with the Red Waistcoat — Disposal Of Property

I saw nothing more of Mr. Petulengro that evening; on the morrow, however, he came and informed me that he had secured the horse for me, and that I was to go and pay for it at noon. At the hour appointed, therefore, I went with Mr. Petulengro and Tawno to the public, where, as before, there was a crowd of company. The landlord received us in the bar with marks of much satisfaction and esteem, made us sit down, and treated us with some excellent mild draught ale. ‘Who do you think has been here this morning?’ he said to me. ‘Why that fellow in black, who came to carry me off to a house of Popish devotion, where I was to pass seven days and nights in meditation, as I think he called it, before I publicly renounced the religion of my country. I read him a pretty lecture, calling him several unhandsome names, and asking him what he meant by attempting to seduce a churchwarden of the Church of England. I tell you what, he ran some danger, for some of my customers, learning his errand, laid hold on him, and were about to toss him in a blanket, and then duck him in the horse-pond. I, however, interfered, and said that what he came about was between me and him, and that it was no business of theirs. To tell you the truth, I felt pity for the poor devil, more especially when I considered that they merely sided against him because they thought him the weakest, and that they would have wanted to serve me in the same manner had they considered me a down pin; so I rescued him from their hands, told him not to be afraid, for that nobody should touch him, and offered to treat him to some cold gin and water with a lump of sugar in it; and, on his refusing, told him that he had better make himself scarce, which he did, and I hope I shall never see him again. So I suppose you are come for the horse; mercy upon us! — who would have thought you would have become the purchaser? The horse, however, seemed to know it by its neighing. How did you ever come by the money? However, that’s no matter of mine. I suppose you are strongly backed by certain friends you have.’

I informed the landlord that he was right in supposing that I came for the horse, but that, before I paid for him, I should wish to prove his capabilities. ‘With all my heart,’ said the landlord. ‘You shall mount him this moment.’ Then, going into the stable, he saddled and bridled the horse, and presently brought him out before the door. I mounted him, Mr. Petulengro putting a heavy whip into my hand, and saying a few words to me in his own mysterious language. ‘The horse wants no whip,’ said the landlord. ‘Hold your tongue, daddy,’ said Mr. Petulengro. ‘My pal knows quite well what to do with the whip; he’s not going to beat the horse with it.’ About four hundred yards from the house there was a hill, to the foot of which the road ran almost on a perfect level; towards the foot of this hill I trotted the horse, who set off at a long, swift pace, seemingly at the rate of about sixteen miles an hour. On reaching the foot of the hill, I wheeled the animal round, and trotted him towards the house — the horse sped faster than before. Ere he had advanced a hundred yards, I took off my hat, in obedience to the advice which Mr. Petulengro had given me, in his own language, and holding it over the horse’s head, commenced drumming on the crown with the knob of the whip; the horse gave a slight start, but instantly recovering himself, continued his trot till he arrived at the door of the public-house, amidst the acclamations of the company, who had all rushed out of the house to be spectators of what was going on. ‘I see now what you wanted the whip for,’ said the landlord, ‘and sure enough that drumming on your hat was no bad way of learning whether the horse was quiet or not. Well, did you ever see a more quiet horse, or a better trotter?’ ‘My cob shall trot against him,’ said a fellow dressed in velveteen, mounted on a low powerful-looking animal —‘my cob shall trot against him to the hill and back again — come on!’ We both started; the cob kept up gallantly against the horse for about half the way to the hill, when he began to lose ground; at the foot of the hill he was about fifteen yards behind. Whereupon I turned slowly and waited for him. We then set off towards the house, but now the cob had no chance, being at least twenty yards behind when I reached the door. This running of horses, the wild uncouth forms around me, and the ale and beer which were being guzzled from pots and flagons, put me wonderfully in mind of the ancient horse-races of the heathen north. I almost imagined myself Gunnar of Hlitharend at the race of —.

‘Are you satisfied?’ said the landlord. ‘Didn’t you tell me that he could leap?’ I demanded. ‘I am told he can,’ said the landlord; ‘but I can’t consent that he should be tried in that way, as he might be damaged.’ ‘That’s right!’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘don’t trust my pal to leap that horse; he’ll merely fling him down and break his neck and his own. There’s a better man than he close by; let him get on his back and leap him.’ ‘You mean yourself, I suppose,’ said the landlord. ‘Well, I call that talking modestly, and nothing becomes a young man more than modesty.’ ‘It ain’t I, daddy,’ said Mr. Petulengro. ‘Here’s the man,’ said he, pointing to Tawno. ‘Here’s the horse-leaper of the world!’ ‘You mean the horse-back-breaker,’ said the landlord. ‘That big fellow would break down my cousin’s horse.’ ‘Why he weighs only sixteen stone,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘and his sixteen stone, with his way of handling a horse, does not press so much as any other one’s thirteen. Only let him get on the horse’s back and you’ll see what he can do!’ ‘No,’ said the landlord, ‘it won’t do.’ Whereupon Mr. Petulengro became very much excited, and, pulling out a handful of money, said: ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll forfeit these guineas if my black pal there does the horse any kind of damage; duck me in the horse-pond if I don’t.’ ‘Well,’ said the landlord, ‘for the sport of the thing I consent, so let your white pal get down, and your black pal mount as soon as he pleases.’ I felt rather mortified at Mr. Petulengro’s interference, and showed no disposition to quit my seat; whereupon he came up to me and said, ‘Now, brother, do get out of the saddle; you are no bad hand at trotting, I am willing to acknowledge that; but at leaping a horse there is no one like Tawno. Let every dog be praised for his own gift. You have been showing off in your line for the last half-hour, now do give Tawno a chance of exhibiting a little; poor fellow, he hasn’t often a chance of exhibiting, as his wife keeps him so much in sight.’ Not wishing to appear desirous of engrossing the public attention, and feeling rather desirous to see how Tawno, of whose exploits in leaping horses I had frequently heard, would acquit himself in the affair, I at length dismounted, and Tawno at a bound leaped into the saddle, where he really looked like Gunnar of Hlitharend, save and except that the complexion of Gunnar was florid, whereas that of Tawno was of nearly Mulatto darkness, and that all Tawno’s features were cast in the Grecian model, whereas Gunnar had a snub nose. ‘There’s a leaping-bar behind the house,’ said the landlord. ‘Leaping-bar!’ said Mr. Petulengro, scornfully. ‘Do you think my black pal ever rides at a leaping-bar? No more than at a windle-straw. Leap over that meadow wall, Tawno.’ Just pass the house, in the direction in which I had been trotting, was a wall about four feet high, beyond which was a small meadow. Tawno rode the horse gently up to the wall, permitted him to look over, then backed him for about ten yards, and pressing his calves against the horse’s sides, he loosed the rein, and the horse launching forward, took the leap in gallant style. ‘Well done, man and horse!’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘now come back, Tawno.’ The leap from the side of the meadow was, however, somewhat higher; and the horse, when pushed at it, at first turned away; whereupon Tawno backed him to a greater distance, pushed the horse to a full gallop, giving a wild cry; whereupon the horse again took the wall, slightly grazing one of his legs against it. ‘A near thing,’ said the landlord, ‘but a good leap. Now, no more leaping, so long as I have control over the animal.’ The horse was then led back to the stable; and the landlord, myself, and companions going into the bar, I paid down the money for the horse.

Scarcely was the bargain concluded, when two or three of the company began to envy me the possession of the horse, and forcing their way into the bar, with much noise and clamour, said that the horse had been sold too cheap. One fellow in particular, with a red waistcoat, the son of a wealthy farmer, said that if he had but known that the horse had been so good a one, he would have bought it at the first price asked for it, which he was now willing to pay, that is, tomorrow, supposing —‘Supposing your father will let you have the money,’ said the landlord, ‘which, after all, might not be the case; but, however that may be, it is too late now. I think myself the horse has been sold for too little money, but if so all the better for the young man, who came forward when no other body did with his money in his hand. There, take yourselves out of my bar,’ said he to the fellows; ‘and a pretty scoundrel you,’ said he to the man of the red waistcoat, ‘to say the horse has been sold too cheap, why, it was only yesterday you said he was good for nothing, and were passing all kinds of jokes at him. Take yourself out of my bar, I say, you and all of you,’ and he turned the fellows out. I then asked the landlord whether he would permit the horse to remain in the stable for a short time, provided I paid for his entertainment, and on his willingly consenting, I treated my friends with ale, and then returned with them to the encampment.

That evening I informed Mr. Petulengro and his party that on the morrow I intended to mount my horse, and leave that part of the country in quest of adventures; inquiring of Jasper where, in the event of my selling the horse advantageously, I might meet with him, and repay the money I had borrowed of him; whereupon Mr. Petulengro informed me that in about ten weeks I might find him at a certain place at the Chong gav. I then stated that as I could not well carry with me the property which I possessed in the dingle, which after all was of no considerable value, I resolved to bestow the said property, namely, the pony, tent, tinker-tools, etc., on Ursula and her husband, partly because they were poor, and partly on account of the great kindness which I bore to Ursula, from whom I had, on various occasions, experienced all manner of civility, particularly in regard to crabbed words. On hearing this intelligence, Ursula returned many thanks to her gentle brother as she called me, and Sylvester was so overjoyed that, casting aside his usual phlegm, he said I was the best friend he had ever had in the world, and in testimony of his gratitude swore that he would permit me to give his wife a choomer in the presence of the whole company, which offer, however, met with a very mortifying reception; the company frowning disapprobation, Ursula protesting against anything of the kind, and I myself showing no forwardness to avail myself of it, having inherited from nature a considerable fund of modesty, to which was added no slight store acquired in the course of my Irish education. I passed that night alone in the dingle in a very melancholy manner, with little or no sleep, thinking of Isopel Berners; and in the morning when I quitted it I shed several tears, as I reflected that I should probably never again see the spot where I had passed so many hours in her company.

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