The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 27

Francis Ardry — His Misfortunes — Dog and Lion Fight — Great Men of the World

A few days after the circumstance which I have last commemorated, it chanced that, as I was standing at the door of the inn, one of the numerous stage-coaches which were in the habit of stopping there, drove up, and several passengers got down. I had assisted a woman with a couple of children to dismount, and had just delivered to her a band-box, which appeared to be her only property, which she had begged me to fetch down from the roof, when I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder, and heard a voice exclaim, ‘Is it possible, old fellow, that I find you in this place?’ I turned round, and wrapped in a large blue cloak, I beheld my good friend Francis Ardry. 148 I shook him most warmly by the hand, and said, ‘If you are surprised to see me, I am no less so to see you, where are you bound to?’

‘I am bound for L—— 149 at any rate I am booked for that seaport,’ said my friend in reply.

‘I am sorry for it,’ said I, ‘for in that case we shall have to part in a quarter of an hour, the coach by which you came stopping no longer.’

‘And whither are you bound?’ demanded my friend.

‘I am stopping at present in this house, quite undetermined as to what to do.’

‘Then come along with me,’ said Francis Ardry.

‘That I can scarcely do,’ said I, ‘I have a horse in the stall which I cannot afford to ruin by racing to L—— by the side of your coach.’

My friend mused for a moment: ‘I have no particular business at L—— ’ said he; ‘I was merely going thither to pass a day or two, till an affair, in which I am deeply interested, at C—— 150 shall come off. I think I shall stay with you for four-and-twenty hours at least; I have been rather melancholy of late, and cannot afford to part with a friend like you at the present moment; it is an unexpected piece of good fortune to have met you; and I have not been very fortunate of late,’ he added, sighing.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘I am glad to see you once more, whether fortunate or not; where is your baggage?’

‘Yon trunk is mine,’ said Francis, pointing to a trunk of black Russian leather upon the coach.

‘We will soon have it down,’ said I, and at a word which I gave to one of the hangers-on at the inn, the trunk was taken from the top of the coach. ‘Now,’ said I to Francis Ardry, ‘follow me, I am a person of some authority in this house;’ thereupon I led Francis Ardry into the house, and a word which I said to a waiter forthwith installed Francis Ardry in a comfortable private sitting-room, and his trunk in the very best sleeping-room of our extensive establishment.

It was now about one o’clock: Francis Ardry ordered dinner for two, to be ready at four, and a pint of sherry to be brought forthwith, which I requested my friend the waiter might be the very best, and which in effect turned out as I requested; we sat down, and when we had drank to each other’s health, Frank requested me to make known to him how I had contrived to free myself from my embarrassments in London, what I had been about since I quitted that city, and the present posture of my affairs.

I related to Francis Ardry how I had composed the Life of Joseph Sell, and how the sale of it to the bookseller had enabled me to quit London with money in my pocket, which had supported me during a long course of ramble in the country, into the particulars of which I, however, did not enter with any considerable degree of fulness. I summed up my account by saying that ‘I was at present a kind of overlooker in the stables of the inn, had still some pounds in my purse, and, moreover, a capital horse in the stall.’

‘No very agreeable posture of affairs,’ said Francis Ardry, looking rather seriously at me.

‘I make no complaints,’ said I, ‘my prospects are not very bright, it is true, but sometimes I have visions, both waking and sleeping, which, though always strange, are invariably agreeable. Last night, in my chamber near the hayloft, I dreamt that I had passed over an almost interminable wilderness — an enormous wall rose before me, the wall, methought, was the great wall of China:— strange figures appeared to be beckoning to me from the top of the wall; such visions are not exactly to be sneered at. Not that such phantasmagoria,’ said I, raising my voice, ‘are to be compared for a moment with such desirable things as fashion, fine clothes, cheques from uncles, parliamentary interest, the love of splendid females. Ah! woman’s love,’ said I, and sighed.

‘What’s the matter with the fellow?’ said Francis Ardry.

‘There is nothing like it,’ said I.

‘Like what?’

‘Love, divine love,’ said I.

‘Confound love,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘I hate the very name; I have made myself a pretty fool by it, but trust me for ever being caught at such folly again. In an evil hour I abandoned my former pursuits and amusements for it; in one morning spent at Joey’s there was more real pleasure than in-’

‘Surely,’ said I, ‘you are not hankering after dog-fighting again, a sport which none but the gross and unrefined care anything for? No, one’s thoughts should be occupied by something higher and more rational than dog-fighting; and what better than love — divine love? Oh, there’s nothing like it!’

‘Pray, don’t talk nonsense,’ said Francis Ardry.

‘Nonsense,’ said I; ‘why I was repeating, to the best of my recollection, what I heard you say on a former occasion.’

‘If ever I talked such stuff,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘I was a fool; and indeed I cannot deny that I have been one: no, there is no denying that I have been a fool. What do you think? That false Annette 151 has cruelly abandoned me.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘perhaps you have yourself to thank for her having done so; did you never treat her with coldness, and repay her marks of affectionate interest with strange fits of eccentric humour?’

‘Lord! how little you know of women,’ said Francis Ardry; ‘had I done as you suppose, I should probably have possessed her at the present moment. I treated her in a manner diametrically opposite to that. I loaded her with presents, was always most assiduous to her, always at her feet, as I may say, yet she nevertheless abandoned me — and for whom? I am almost ashamed to say — for a fiddler.’

I took a glass of wine, Francis Ardry followed my example, and then proceeded to detail to me the treatment which he had experienced from Annette, and from what he said, it appeared that her conduct to him had been in the highest degree reprehensible; notwithstanding he had indulged her in everything, she was never civil to him, but loaded him continually with taunts and insults, and had finally, on his being unable to supply her with a sum of money which she had demanded, decamped from the lodgings which he had taken for her, carrying with her all the presents which at various times he had bestowed upon her, and had put herself under the protection of a gentleman who played the bassoon at the Italian Opera, at which place it appeared that her sister had lately been engaged as a danseuse. My friend informed me that at first he had experienced great agony at the ingratitude of Annette, but at last had made up his mind to forget her, and in order more effectually to do so, had left London with the intention of witnessing a fight, which was shortly coming off at a town in these parts, between some dogs and a lion; 152 which combat, he informed me, had for some time past been looked forward to with intense eagerness by the gentlemen of the sporting world.

I commended him for his resolution, at the same time advising him not to give up his mind entirely to dog-fighting, as he had formerly done, but, when the present combat should be over, to return to his rhetorical studies, and above all to marry some rich and handsome lady on the first opportunity, as, with his person and expectations, he had only to sue for the hand of the daughter of a marquis to be successful, telling him, with a sigh, that all women were not Annettes, and that upon the whole there was nothing like them. To which advice he answered, that he intended to return to rhetoric as soon as the lion fight should be over, but that he never intended to marry, having had enough of women; adding, that he was glad he had no sister, as, with the feelings which he entertained with respect to her sex, he should be unable to treat her with common affection, and concluded by repeating a proverb which he had learnt from an Arab whom he had met at Venice, to the effect that, ‘one who has been stung by a snake, shivers at the sight of a string.’

After a little more conversation, we strolled to the stable, where my horse was standing; my friend, who was a connoisseur in horse-flesh, surveyed the animal with attention, and after inquiring where and how I had obtained him, asked what I intended to do with him; on my telling him that I was undetermined, and that I was afraid the horse was likely to prove a burden to me, he said, ‘It is a noble animal, and if you mind what you are about, you may make a small fortune by him. I do not want such an animal myself, nor do I know any one who does; but a great horse-fair will be held shortly at a place where, it is true, I have never been, but of which I have heard a great deal from my acquaintances, where it is said a first-rate horse is always sure to fetch its value; that place is Horncastle, in Lincolnshire; you should take him thither.’

Francis Ardry and myself dined together, and after dinner partook of a bottle of the best port which the inn afforded. After a few glasses, we had a great deal of conversation; I again brought the subject of marriage and love, divine love, upon the carpet, but Francis almost immediately begged me to drop it; and on my having the delicacy to comply, he reverted to dog-fighting, on which he talked well and learnedly; amongst other things, he said that it was a princely sport of great antiquity, and quoted from Quintus Curtius to prove that the princes of India must have been of the fancy, they having, according to that author, treated Alexander to a fight between certain dogs and a lion. Becoming, notwithstanding my friend’s eloquence and learning, somewhat tired of the subject, I began to talk about Alexander. Francis Ardry said he was one of the two great men whom the world has produced, the other being Napoleon; I replied that I believed Tamerlane was a greater man than either; but Francis Ardry knew nothing of Tamerlane, save what he had gathered from the play of Timour the Tartar. ‘No,’ said he; ‘Alexander and Napoleon are the great men of the world, their names are known everywhere. Alexander has been dead upwards of two thousand years, but the very English bumpkins sometimes christen their boys by the name of Alexander — can there be a greater evidence of his greatness? As for Napoleon, there are some parts of India in which his bust is worshipped.’ Wishing to make up a triumvirate I mentioned the name of Wellington, to which Francis Ardry merely said, ‘bah!’ and resumed the subject of dog-fighting.

Francis Ardry remained at the inn during that day and the next, and then departed to the dog and lion fight; I never saw him afterwards, and merely heard of him once after the lapse of some years, and what I then heard was not exactly what I could have wished to hear. He did not make much of the advantages which he possessed, a pity, for how great were those advantages — person, intellect, eloquence, connection, riches! yet, with all these advantages, one thing highly needful seems to have been wanting in Francis. A desire, a craving, to perform something great and good. Oh! what a vast deal may be done with intellect, courage, riches, accompanied by the desire of doing something great and good! Why, a person may carry the blessings of civilization and religion to barbarous, yet at the same time to beautiful and romantic lands; and what a triumph there is for him who does so! What a crown of glory! of far greater value that those surrounding the brows of your mere conquerors. Yet who has done so in these times? Not many; not three, not two, something seems to have been always wanting: there is, however, one instance in which the various requisites have been united, and the crown, the most desirable in the world — at least which I consider to be the most desirable — achieved, and only one, that of Brooke of Borneo. 153

148 His real name was Francis Arden (Kn.).

149 Liverpool.

150 Chester.

151 See ‘Lavengro,’ i. 399; ii. 57.

152 See Introduction.

153 Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawah, Borrow’s old school-fellow at Norwich (1816–1818).

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