The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 28

Mr. Platitude and the Man in Black — The Postillion’s Adventures — The Lone House — A Goodly Assemblage

It never rains, but it pours. I was destined to see at this inn more acquaintances than one. On the day of Francis Ardry’s departure, shortly after he had taken leave of me, as I was standing in the corn-chamber at a kind of writing-table or desk, fastened to the wall, with a book before me, in which I was making out an account of the corn and hay lately received and distributed, my friend the postillion came running in out of breath. ‘Here they both are,’ he gasped out; ‘pray do come and look at them!’

‘Whom do you mean?’ said I.

‘Why, that red-haired Jack Priest, and that idiotic parson, Platitude; they have just been set down by one of the coaches, and want a post-chaise to go across the country in; and what do you think? I am to have the driving of them. I have no time to lose, for I must get myself ready: so do come and look at them.’

I hastened into the yard of the inn; two or three of the helpers of our establishment were employed in drawing forward a post-chaise out of the chaise-house, which occupied one side of the yard, and which was spacious enough to contain nearly twenty of these vehicles, though it was never full, several of them being always out upon the roads, as the demand upon us for post-chaises across the country was very great. ‘There they are,’ said the postillion, softly, nodding towards two individuals, in one of whom I recognised the man in black, and in the other Mr. Platitude; ‘there they are; have a good look at them, while I go and get ready.’ The man in black and Mr. Platitude were walking up and down the yard, Mr. Platitude was doing his best to make himself appear ridiculous, talking very loudly in exceedingly bad Italian, evidently for the purpose of attracting the notice of the bystanders, in which he succeeded, all the stable-boys and hangers on about the yard, attracted by his vociferation, grinning at his ridiculous figure as he limped up and down. The man in black said little or nothing, but from the glances which he cast sideways appeared to be thoroughly ashamed of his companion; the worthy couple presently arrived close to where I was standing, and the man in black, who was nearest to me, perceiving me, stood still as if hesitating, but recovering himself in a moment, he moved on without taking any further notice; Mr. Platitude exclaimed as they passed, in broken lingo, ‘I hope we shall find the holy doctors all assembled,’ and as they returned, ‘I make no doubt that they will all be rejoiced to see me.’ Not wishing to be standing an idle gazer, I went to the chaise and assisted in attaching the horses, which had now been brought out, to the pole. The postillion presently arrived, and finding all ready took the reins and mounted the box, whilst I very politely opened the door for the two travellers; Mr. Platitude got in first, and, without taking any notice of me, seated himself on the farther side. In got the man in black and seated himself nearest to me. ‘All is right,’ said I, as I shut the door, whereupon the postillion cracked his whip, and the chaise drove out of the yard. Just as I shut the door, however, and just as Mr. Platitude had recommenced talking in jergo, at the top of his voice, the man in black turned his face partly towards me, and gave me a wink with his left eye.

I did not see my friend the postillion till the next morning, when he gave me an account of the adventures he had met with on his expedition. It appeared that he had driven the man in black and the Reverend Platitude across the country by roads and lanes which he had some difficulty in threading. At length, when he had reached a part of the country where he had never been before, the man in black pointed out to him a house near the corner of a wood, to which he informed him they were bound. The postillion said it was a strange-looking house, with a wall round it; and, upon the whole, bore something of the look of a madhouse. There was already a post-chaise at the gate, from which three individuals had alighted — one of them the postillion said was a mean-looking scoundrel, with a regular petty-larceny expression in his countenance. He was dressed very much like the man in black, and the postillion said that he could almost have taken his bible oath that they were both of the same profession. The other two he said were parsons, he could swear that, though he had never seen them before; there could be no mistake about them. Church of England parsons the postillion swore they were, with their black coats, white cravats, and airs, in which clumsiness and conceit were most funnily blended — Church of England parsons of the Platitude description, who had been in Italy, and seen the Pope, and kissed his toe, and picked up a little broken Italian, and come home greater fools than they went forth. It appeared that they were all acquaintances of Mr. Platitude, for when the postillion had alighted and let Mr. Platitude and his companion out of the chaise, Mr. Platitude shook the whole three by the hand, conversed with his two brothers in a little broken jergo, and addressed the petty-larceny looking individual by the title of Reverend Doctor. In the midst of these greetings, however, the postillion said the man in black came up to him, and proceeded to settle with him for the chaise; he had shaken hands with nobody, and had merely nodded to the others; ‘and now,’ said the postillion, ‘he evidently wished to get rid of me, fearing, probably, that I should see too much of the nonsense that was going on. It was whilst settling with me that he seemed to recognise me for the first time, for he stared hard at me, and at last asked whether I had not been in Italy; to which question, with a nod and a laugh, I replied that I had. I was then going to ask him about the health of the image of Holy Mary, and to say that I hoped it had recovered from its horsewhipping; but he interrupted me, paid me the money for the fare, and gave me a crown for myself, saying he would not detain me any longer. I say, partner, I am a poor postillion, but when he gave me the crown I had a good mind to fling it in his face. I reflected, however, that it was not mere gift-money, but coin which I had earned, and hardly too, so I put it in my pocket, and I bethought me, moreover, that, knave as I knew him to be, he had always treated me with civility; so I nodded to him, and he said something which, perhaps, he meant for Latin, but which sounded very much like “vails,” and by which he doubtless alluded to the money which he had given me. He then went into the house with the rest, the coach drove away which had brought the others, and I was about to get on the box and follow; observing, however, two more chaises driving up, I thought I would be in no hurry, so I just led my horses and chaise a little out of the way, and pretending to be occupied about the harness, I kept a tolerably sharp look-out at the new arrivals. Well, partner, the next vehicle that drove up was a gentleman’s carriage which I knew very well, as well as those with it, who were a father and son, the father a good kind of old gentleman, and a justice of the peace, therefore not very wise, as you may suppose; the son a puppy who has been abroad, where he contrived to forget his own language, though only nine months absent, and now rules the roast over his father and mother, whose only child he is, and by whom he is thought wondrous clever. So this foreigneering chap brings his poor old father to this out of the way house to meet these Platitudes and petty larceny villains, and perhaps would have brought his mother too, only, simple thing, by good fortune she happens to be laid up with the rheumatiz. Well, the father and son, I beg pardon I mean the son and father, got down and went in, and then after their carriage was gone, the chaise behind drove up, in which was a huge fat fellow, weighing twenty stone at least, but with something of a foreign look, and with him — who do you think? Why, a rascally Unitarian minister — that is, a fellow who had been such a minister — but who some years ago leaving his own people, who had bred him up and sent him to their college at York, went over to the High Church, and is now, I suppose, going over to some other church, for he was talking, as he got down, wondrous fast in Latin, or what sounded something like Latin, to the fat fellow, who appeared to take things wonderfully easy, and merely grunted to the dog Latin which the scoundrel had learnt at the expense of the poor Unitarians at York. So they went into the house, and presently arrived another chaise, but ere I could make any farther observations, the porter of the out-of-the-way house came up to me, asking what I was stopping there for? bidding me go away, and not pry into other people’s business. “Pretty business,” said I to him, “that is being transacted in a play like this,” and then I was going to say something uncivil, but he went to attend to the new comers, and I took myself away on my own business as he bade me, not however, before observing that these two last were a couple of blackcoats.’

The postillion then proceeded to relate how he made the best of his way to a small public-house, about a mile off, where he had intended to bait, and how he met on the way a landau and pair, belonging to a Scotch coxcomb whom he had known in London, about whom he related some curious particulars, and then continued: ‘Well, after I had passed him and his turn-out, I drove straight to the public-house, where I baited my horses, and where I found some of the chaises and drivers who had driven the folks to the lunatic-looking mansion, and were now waiting to take them up again. Whilst my horses were eating their bait, I sat me down, as the weather was warm, at a table outside, and smoked a pipe and drank some ale, in company with the coachman of the old gentleman who had gone to the house with his son, and the coachman then told me that the house was a Papist house, and that the present was a grand meeting of all the fools and rascals in the country, who came to bow down to images, and to concert schemes — pretty schemes, no doubt — for overturning the religion of the country, and that for his part he did not approve of being concerned with such doings, and that he was going to give his master warning next day. So, as we were drinking and discoursing, up drove the chariot of the Scotchman, and down got his valet and the driver, and whilst the driver was seeing after the horses, the valet came and sat down at the table where the gentleman’s coachman and I were drinking. I knew the fellow well, a Scotchman like his master, and just of the same kidney, with white kid gloves, red hair frizzled, a patch of paint on his face, and his hands covered with rings. This very fellow, I must tell you, was one of those most busy in endeavouring to get me turned out of the servants’ club in Park Lane, because I happened to serve a literary man; so he sat down, and in a kind of affected tone cried out, “Landlord, bring me a glass of cold negus.” The landlord, however, told him that there was no negus, but that if he pleased he could have a jug of as good beer as any in the country. “Confound the beer,” said the valet, “do you think I am accustomed to such vulgar beverage?” However, as he found there was nothing better to be had, he let the man bring him some beer, and when he had got it, soon showed that he could drink it easily enough; so, when he had drank two or three draughts, he turned his eyes in a contemptuous manner, first on the coachman and then on me; I saw the scamp recollected me, for after staring at me and at my dress for about half a minute, he put on a broad grin, and flinging his head back he uttered a loud laugh. Well, I did not like this, as you may well believe, and taking the pipe out of my mouth, I asked him if he meant anything personal, to which he answered that he had said nothing to me, and that he had a right to look where he pleased, and laugh when he pleased. Well, as to a certain extent he was right as to looking and laughing, and as I have occasionally looked at a fool and laughed, though I was not the fool in this instance, I put my pipe into my mouth and said no more. This quiet and well-regulated behaviour of mine, however, the fellow interpreted into fear; so, after drinking a little more, he suddenly started up, and striding once or twice before the table, he asked me what I meant by that impertinent question of mine, saying that he had a good mind to wring my nose for my presumption. “You have?” said I, getting up and laying down my pipe. “Well, I’ll now give you an opportunity.” So I put myself in an attitude, and went up to him, saying, “I have an old score to settle with you, you scamp; you wanted to get me turned out of the club, didn’t you?” And thereupon, remembering that he had threatened to wring my nose, I gave him a snorter upon his own. I wish you could have seen the fellow when he felt the smart; so far from trying to defend himself, he turned round, and with his hand to his face, attempted to run away, but I was now in a regular passion, and following him up, got before him, and was going to pummel away at him when he burst into tears, and begged me not to hurt him, saying that he was sorry if he had offended me, and that, if I pleased, he would go down on his knees, or do anything else I wanted. Well, when I heard him talk in this manner, I, of course, let him be; I could hardly help laughing at the figure he cut, his face all blubbered with tears and blood and paint; but I did not laugh at the poor creature either, but went to the table and took up my pipe and smoked and drank as if nothing had happened; and the fellow, after having been to the pump, came and sat down, crying and trying to curry favour with me and the coachman; presently, however, putting on a confidential look, he began to talk of the Popish house, and of the doings there, and said he supposed as how we were of the party, and that it was all right; and then he began to talk of the Pope of Rome, and what a nice man he was, and what a fine thing it was to be of his religion, especially if folks went over to him; and how it advanced them in the world, and gave them consideration; and how his master, who had been abroad and seen the Pope, and kissed his toe, was going over to the Popish religion, and had persuaded him to consent to do so, and to forsake his own, which I think the scoundrel called the ‘Piscopal Church of Scotland, and how many others of that Church were going over, thinking to better their condition in life by so doing, and to be more thought on; and how many of the English Church were thinking of going over too — and that he had no doubt that it would all end right and comfortably.’ Well, as he was going on in this way, the old coachman began to spit, and getting up, flung all the beer that was in his jug upon the ground, and going away, ordered another jug of beer, and sat down at another table, saying that he would not drink in such company; and I, too, got up, and flung what beer remained in my jug — there wasn’t more than a drop — in the fellow’s face, saying I would scorn to drink any more in such company; and then I went to my horses, put them to, paid my reckoning, and drove home.’

The postillion having related his story, to which I listened with all due attention, mused for a moment, and then said: ‘I dare say you remember how, some time since, when old Bill had been telling us how the Government a long time ago had done away with robbing on the highway by putting down the public-houses and places which the highwaymen frequented, and by sending out a good mounted police to hunt them down, I said that it was a shame that the present Government did not employ somewhat the same means in order to stop the proceedings of Mumbo Jumbo and his gang now-a-days in England. Howsomever, since I have driven a fare to a Popish rendezvous, and seen something of what is going on there, I should conceive that the Government are justified in allowing the gang the free exercise of their calling. Anybody is welcome to stoop and pick up nothing or worse than nothing, and if Mumbo Jumbo’s people, after their expeditions, return to their haunts with no better plunder in the shape of converts than what I saw going into yonder place of call, I should say they are welcome to what they get; for if that’s the kind of rubbish they steal out of the Church of England, or any other Church, who in his senses but would say a good riddance, and many thanks for your trouble; at any rate, that is my opinion of the matter.’

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