The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 29

Deliberations with Self — Resolution — Invitation to Dinner — The Commercial Traveller — The Landlord’s Offer — The Comet Wine

It was now that I had frequent deliberations with myself. Should I continue at the inn in my present position? I was not very much captivated with it; there was little poetry in keeping an account of the corn, hay, and straw which came in, and was given out, and I was fond of poetry; moreover, there was no glory at all to be expected in doing so, and I was fond of glory. Should I give up that situation, and remaining at the inn, become ostler under old Bill? There was more poetry in rubbing down horses than in keeping an account of straw, hay, and corn; there was also some prospect of glory attached to the situation of ostler, for the grooms and stable-boys occasionally talked of an ostler, a great way down the road, who had been presented by some sporting people, not with a silver vase, as our governor had been, but with a silver currycomb, in testimony of their admiration for his skill; but I confess that the poetry of rubbing down had become, as all other poetry becomes, rather prosy by frequent repetition, and with respect to the chance of deriving glory from the employment, I entertained in the event of my determining to stay, very slight hope of ever attaining skill in the ostler art sufficient to induce sporting people to bestow upon me a silver currycomb. I was not half so good an ostler as old Bill, who had never been presented with a silver currycomb, and I never expected to become so, therefore what chance had I? It was true, there was a prospect of some pecuniary emolument to be derived by remaining in either situation. It was very probable that, provided I continued to keep an account of the hay and corn coming in and expended, the landlord would consent to allow me a pound a week, which at the end of a dozen years, provided I kept myself sober, would amount to a considerable sum. I might, on the retirement of old Bill, by taking his place, save up a decent sum of money, provided, unlike him, I kept myself sober, and laid by all the shillings and sixpences I got; but the prospect of laying up a decent sum of money was not of sufficient importance to induce me to continue either at my wooden desk, or in the inn-yard. The reader will remember what difficulty I had to make up my mind to become a merchant under the Armenian’s auspices, even with the prospect of making two or three hundred thousand pounds by following the Armenian way of doing business, so it was not probable that I should feel disposed to be book-keeper or ostler all my life with no other prospect than being able to make a tidy sum of money. If, indeed, besides the prospect of making a tidy-sum at the end of perhaps forty years ostlering, I had been certain of being presented with a silver currycomb with my name engraved upon it, which I might have left to my descendants, or, in default thereof, to the parish church destined to contain my bones, with directions that it might be soldered into the wall above the arch leading from the body of the church into the chancel — I will not say that with such a certainty of immortality, combined with such a prospect of moderate pecuniary advantage, I might not have thought it worth my while to stay, but I entertained no such certainty, and taking everything into consideration, I determined to mount my horse and leave the inn.

This horse had caused me for some time past no little perplexity; I had frequently repented of having purchased him, more especially as the purchase had been made with another person’s money, and had more than once shown him to people who, I imagined, were likely to purchase him; but, though they were profuse in his praise, as people generally are in the praise of what they don’t intend to purchase, they never made me an offer, and now that I had determined to mount on his back and ride away, what was I to do with him in the sequel? I could not maintain him long. Suddenly I bethought me of Horncastle, which Francis Ardry had mentioned as a place where the horse was likely to find a purchaser, and not having determined upon any particular place to which to repair, I thought that I could do no better than betake myself to Horncastle in the first instance, and there endeavour to dispose of my horse.

On making inquiries with respect to the situation of Horncastle, and the time when the fair would be held, I learned that the town was situated in Lincolnshire, about a hundred and fifty miles from the inn at which I was at present sojourning, and that the fair would be held nominally within about a month, but that it was always requisite to be on the spot some days before the nominal day of the fair, as all the best horses were generally sold before that time, and the people who came to purchase gone away with what they had bought.

The people of the inn were very sorry on being informed of my determination to depart. Old Bill told me that he had hoped as how I had intended to settle down there, and to take his place as ostler when he was fit for no more work, adding, that though I did not know much of the business, yet he had no doubt but that I might improve. My friend the postillion was particularly sorry, and taking me with him to the tap-room called for two pints of beer, to one of which he treated me; and whilst we were drinking told me how particularly sorry he was at the thought of my going, but that he hoped I should think better of the matter. On my telling him that I must go, he said that he trusted I should put off my departure for three weeks, in order that I might be present at his marriage, the banns of which were just about to be published. He said that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to see me dance a minuet with his wife after the marriage dinner; but I told him it was impossible that I should stay, my affairs imperatively calling me elsewhere; and that with respect to my dancing a minuet, such a thing was out of the question, as I had never learned to dance. At which he said that he was exceedingly sorry, and finding me determined to go, wished me success in all my undertakings.

The master of the house, to whom, as in duty bound, I communicated my intention before I spoke of it to the servants, was, I make no doubt, very sorry, though he did not exactly tell me so. What he said was, that he had never expected that I should remain long there, as such a situation never appeared to him quite suitable to me, though I had been very diligent, and had given him perfect satisfaction. On his inquiring when I intended to depart, I informed him next day, whereupon he begged that I would defer my departure till the next day but one, and do him the favour of dining with him on the morrow. I informed him that I should be only too happy.

On the following day at four o’clock I dined with the landlord, in company with a commercial traveller. The dinner was good, though plain, consisting of boiled mackerel — rather a rarity in those parts at that time — with fennel sauce, a prime baron of roast beef after the mackerel, then a tart and noble Cheshire cheese; we had prime sherry at dinner, and whilst eating the cheese prime porter, that of Barclay, the only good porter in the world. After the cloth was removed we had a bottle of very good port; and whilst partaking of the port I had an argument with the commercial traveller on the subject of the corn-laws.

The commercial traveller, having worsted me in the argument on the subject of the corn-laws, got up in great glee, saying that he must order his gig, as business must be attended to. Before leaving the room, however, he shook me patronizingly by the hand, and said something to the master of the house, but in so low a tone that it escaped my ear.

No sooner had he departed than the master of the house told me that his friend the traveller had just said that I was a confounded sensible young fellow, and not at all opinionated, a sentiment in which he himself perfectly agreed — then hemming once or twice, he said that as I was going on a journey he hoped I was tolerably well provided with money, adding that travelling was rather expensive, especially on horseback, the manner in which he supposed, as I had a horse in the stable, I intended to travel. I told him that though I was not particularly well supplied with money, I had sufficient for the expenses of my journey, at the end of which I hoped to procure more. He then hemmed again, and said that since I had been at the inn I had rendered him a great deal of service in more ways than one, and that he could not think of permitting me to depart without making me some remuneration; then putting his hand into his waistcoat pocket he handed me a cheque for ten pounds, which he had prepared beforehand, the value of which he said I could receive at the next town, or that, if I wished it, any waiter in the house would cash it for me. I thanked him for his generosity in the best terms I could select, but, handing him back his cheque, I told him that I could not accept it, saying that, so far from his being my debtor, I believed myself to be indebted to him, as not only myself but my horse had been living at his house for several weeks. He replied that, as for my board at a house like his, it amounted to nothing, and as for the little corn and hay which the horse had consumed it was of no consequence, and that he must insist upon my taking the cheque. But I again declined, telling him that doing so would be a violation of a rule which I had determined to follow, and which nothing but the greatest necessity would ever compel me to break through — never to incur obligations. ‘But,’ said he, ‘receiving this money will not be incurring an obligation: it is your due.’ ‘I do not think so,’ said I; ‘I did not engage to serve you for money, nor will I take any from you.’ ‘Perhaps you will take it as a loan?’ said he. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I never borrow.’ ‘Well,’ said the landlord, smiling, ‘you are different from all others that I am acquainted with. I never yet knew any one else who scrupled to borrow and receive obligations. Why, there are two baronets in this neighbourhood who have borrowed money of me, ay, and who have never repaid what they borrowed; and there are a dozen squires who are under considerable obligations to me, who I dare say will never return them. Come, you need not be more scrupulous than your superiors — I mean in station.’ ‘Every vessel must stand on its own bottom,’ said I; ‘they take pleasure in receiving obligations, I take pleasure in being independent. Perhaps they are wise, and I am a fool, I know not, but one thing I am certain of, which is, that were I not independent I should be very unhappy: I should have no visions then.’ ‘Have you any relations?’ said the landlord, looking at me compassionately. ‘Excuse me, but I don’t think you are exactly fit to take care of yourself.’ ‘There you are mistaken,’ said I, ‘I can take precious good care of myself; ay, and can drive a precious hard bargain when I have occasion, but driving bargains is a widely different thing from receiving gifts. I am going to take my horse to Horncastle, and when there I shall endeavour to obtain his full value — ay, to the last penny.’

‘Horncastle!’ said the landlord, ‘I have heard of that place; you mustn’t be dreaming visions when you get there, or they’ll steal the horse from under you. Well,’ said he, rising, ‘I shall not press you farther on the subject of the cheque. I intend, however, to put you under an obligation to me.’ He then rang the bell, and having ordered two fresh glasses to be brought, he went out and presently returned with a small pint bottle, which he uncorked with his own hand; then sitting down, he said: ‘The wine that I bring here, is port of eighteen hundred and eleven, the year of the comet, the best vintage on record; the wine which we have been drinking,’ he added, ‘is good, but not to be compared with this, which I never sell, and which I am chary of. When you have drank some of it, I think you will own that I have conferred an obligation upon you;’ he then filled the glasses, the wine which he poured out diffusing an aroma through the room; then motioning me to drink, he raised his own glass to his lips, saying: ‘Come, friend, I drink to your success at Horncastle.’

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