The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 23

Drivers and Front Outside Passengers — Fatigue of Body and Mind — Unexpected Greeting — My Inn — The Governor — Engagement

I continued my journey, passing through one or two villages. The day was exceedingly hot, and the roads dusty. In order to cause my horse as little fatigue as possible, and not to chafe his back, I led him by the bridle, my doing which brought upon me a shower of remarks, jests, and would-be witticisms from the drivers and front outside passengers of sundry stage-coaches, which passed me in one direction or the other. In this way I proceeded till considerably past noon, when I felt myself very fatigued, and my horse appeared no less so; and it is probable that the lazy and listless manner in which we were moving on tired us both much more effectually than hurrying along at a swift trot would have done, for I have observed that when the energies of the body are not exerted a languor frequently comes over it. At length, arriving at a very large building with an archway, near the entrance of a town, 138 I sat down on what appeared to be a stepping-block, and presently experienced a great depression of spirits. I began to ask myself whither I was going, and what I should do with myself and the horse which I held by the bridle? It appeared to me that I was alone in the world with the poor animal, who looked for support to me, who knew not how to support myself. Then the image of Isopel Berners came into my mind, and when I bethought me how I had lost her for ever, and how happy I might have been with her in the New World had she not deserted me, I became yet more miserable.

As I sat in this state of mind, I suddenly felt some one clap me on the shoulder, and heard a voice say: ‘Ha! comrade of the dingle, what chance has brought you into these parts?’ I turned round, and beheld a man in the dress of a postillion, whom I instantly recognised as he to whom I had rendered assistance on the night of the storm.

‘Ah!’ said I, ‘is it you? I am glad to see you, for I was feeling very lonely and melancholy.’

‘Lonely and melancholy,’ he replied, ‘how is that? how can anyone be lonely and melancholy with such a noble horse as that you hold by the bridle?’

‘The horse,’ said I, ‘is one cause of my melancholy, for I know not in the world what to do with it.’

‘Is it your own?’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘I may call it my own, though I borrowed the money to purchase it.’

‘Well, why don’t you sell it?’

‘It is not always easy to find a purchaser for a horse like this,’ said I; ‘can you recommend me one?’

‘I? Why, no, not exactly: but you’ll find a purchaser shortly — pooh! If you have no other cause for disquiet than that horse, cheer up, man; don’t be cast down. Have you nothing else on your mind? By-the-by, what’s become of the young woman you were keeping company with in that queer lodging-place of yours?’

‘She has left me,’ said I.

‘You quarrelled, I suppose?’

‘No,’ said I, ‘we did not exactly quarrel, but we are parted.’

‘Well,’ replied he, ‘but you will soon come together again.’

‘No,’ said I; ‘we are parted for ever.’

‘For ever! Pooh! you little know how people sometimes come together again who think they are parted for ever. Here’s something on that point relating to myself. You remember when I told you my story in that dingle of yours, that I mentioned a young woman, my fellow-servant when I lived with the English family in Mumbo Jumbo’s town, and how she and I, when our foolish governors were thinking of changing their religion, agreed to stand by each other, and be true to old Church of England, and to give our governors warning, provided they tried to make us renegades. Well, she and I parted soon after that, and never thought to meet again, yet we met the other day in the fields, for she lately came to live with a great family not far from here, and we have since agreed to marry, to take a little farm, for we have both a trifle of money, and live together till “death us do part.” So much for parting for ever! But what do I mean by keeping you broiling in the sun with your horse’s bridle in your hand, and you on my own ground? Do you know where you are? Why, that great house is my inn, that is, it’s my master’s, the best fellow in ——. Come along, you and your horse both will find a welcome at my inn.’

Thereupon he led the way into a large court, in which there were coaches, chaises, and a great many people; taking my horse from me, he led it into a nice cool stall, and fastening it to the rack, he then conducted me into a postillion’s keeping-room, which at that time chanced to be empty, and he then fetched a pot of beer and sat down by me.

After a little conversation he asked me what I intended to do, and I told him frankly that I did not know, whereupon he observed that, provided I had no objection, he had little doubt that I could be accommodated for some time at his inn. ‘Our upper ostler,’ said he, ‘died about a week ago; he was a clever fellow, and besides his trade understood reading and accounts.’

‘Dear me,’ said I, interrupting him, ‘I am not fitted for the place of ostler — moreover, I refused the place of ostler at a public-house, which was offered to me only a few days ago.’ The postillion burst into a laugh. ‘Ostler at a public-house, indeed! Why, you would not compare a berth at a place like that with the situation of ostler at my inn, the first road-house in England! However, I was not thinking of the place of ostler for you; you are, as you say, not fitted for it, at any rate, not at a house like this. We have, moreover, the best under-ostler in all England — old Bill, with the drawback that he is rather fond of drink. We could make shift with him very well provided we could fall in with a man of writing and figures, who could give an account of the hay and corn which comes in and goes out, and wouldn’t object to give a look occasionally at the yard. Now it appears to me that you are just such a kind of man, and if you will allow me to speak to the governor, I don’t doubt that he will gladly take you, as he feels kindly disposed towards you from what he has heard me say concerning you.’

‘And what should I do with my horse?’ said I.

‘The horse need give you no uneasiness,’ said the postillion: ‘I know he will be welcome here both for bed and manger, and perhaps in a little time you may find a purchaser, as a vast number of sporting people frequent this house.’ I offered two or three more objections, which the postillion overcame with great force of argument, and the pot being nearly empty, he drained it to the bottom drop, and then starting up, left me alone.

In about twenty minutes he returned, accompanied by a highly intelligent looking individual dressed in blue and black, with a particularly white cravat, and without a hat on his head; this individual, whom I should have mistaken for a gentleman but for the intelligence depicted in his face, he introduced to me as the master of the inn. The master of the inn shook me warmly by the hand, told me that he was happy to see me in his house, and thanked me in the handsomest terms for the kindness I had shown to his servant in the affair of the thunder-storm. Then saying that he was informed I was out of employ, he assured me that he should be most happy to engage me to keep his hay and corn account, and as general superintendent of the yard, and that with respect to the horse, which he was told I had, he begged to inform me that I was perfectly at liberty to keep it at the inn upon the very best, until I could find a purchaser; that with regard to wages — but he had no sooner mentioned wages than I cut him short, saying that provided I stayed I should be most happy to serve him for bed and board, and requested that he would allow me until the next morning to consider of his offer; he willingly consented to my request, and, begging that I would call for anything I pleased, left me alone with the postillion.

I passed that night until about ten o’clock with the postillion, when he left me, having to drive a family about ten miles across the country; before his departure, however, I told him that I had determined to accept the offer of his governor, as he called him. At the bottom of my heart I was most happy that an offer had been made, which secured to myself and the animal a comfortable retreat at a moment when I knew not whither in the world to take myself and him.

138 The Swan Hotel at Stafford. In ‘Lavengro,’ ii. 386, the inn is described as upwards of thirty miles distant from the dingle, on the great North road.

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