The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 31

Novel Situation — The Elderly Individual — The Surgeon — A Kind Offer — Chimerical Ideas — Strange Dream

How long I remained senseless I cannot say; for a considerable time I believe; at length, opening my eyes, I found myself lying on a bed in a middle-sized chamber, lighted by a candle, which stood on a table; an elderly man stood near me, and a yet more elderly female was holding a phial of very pungent salts to my olfactory organ. I attempted to move, but felt very stiff — my right arm appeared nearly paralyzed, and there was a strange dull sensation in my head. ‘You had better remain still, young man,’ said the elderly individual, ‘the surgeon will be here presently; I have sent a message for him to the neighbouring village.’ ‘Where am I?’ said I, ‘and what has happened?’ ‘You are in my house,’ said the old man, ‘and you have been flung from a horse. I am sorry to say that I was the cause. As I was driving home, the lights in my gig frightened the animal.’ ‘Where is the horse?’ said I. ‘Below, in my stable,’ said the elderly individual. ‘I saw you fall, but knowing that on account of my age I could be of little use to you, I instantly hurried home; the accident did not occur more than a furlong off, and procuring the assistance of my lad, and two or three neighbouring cottagers, I returned to the spot where you were lying senseless. We raised you up, and brought you here. My lad then went in quest of the horse, who had run away as we drew nigh. When we saw him first, he was standing near you; he caught him with some difficulty, and brought him home. What are you about?’ said the old man, as I strove to get off the bed. ‘I want to see the horse,’ said I. ‘I entreat you to be still,’ said the old man; ‘the horse is safe, I assure you.’ ‘I am thinking about his knees,’ said I. ‘Instead of thinking about your horse’s knees,’ said the old man, ‘be thankful that you have not broke your own neck.’ ‘You do not talk wisely,’ said I; ‘when a man’s neck is broke he is provided for; but when his horse’s knees are broke he is a lost jockey, that is if he has nothing but his horse to depend upon. A pretty figure I should cut at Horncastle, mounted on a horse blood-raw at the knees.’ ‘Oh, you are going to Horncastle,’ said the old man seriously, ‘then I can sympathize with you in your anxiety about your horse, being a Lincolnshire man, and the son of one who bred horses. I will myself go down into the stable and examine into the condition of your horse, so pray remain quiet till I return; it would certainly be a terrible thing to appear at Horncastle on a broken-kneed horse.’

He left the room and returned at the end of about ten minutes, followed by another person. ‘Your horse is safe,’ said he, ‘and his knees are unblemished; not a hair ruffled. He is a fine animal, and will do credit to Horncastle; but here is the surgeon come to examine into your own condition.’ The surgeon was a man about thirty-five, thin and rather tall; his face was long and pale, and his hair, which was light, was carefully combed back as much as possible from his forehead. He was dressed very neatly, and spoke in a very precise tone. ‘Allow me to feel your pulse, friend?’ said he, taking me by the right wrist. I uttered a cry, for at the motion which he caused a thrill of agony darted through my arm. ‘I hope your arm is not broke, my friend,’ said the surgeon; ‘allow me to see. First of all, we must divest you of this cumbrous frock.’

The frock was removed with some difficulty, and then the upper vestments of my frame, with more difficulty still. The surgeon felt my arm, moving it up and down, causing me unspeakable pain. ‘There is no fracture,’ said he, at last, ‘but a contusion — a violent contusion. I am told you were going to Horncastle: I am afraid you will be hardly able to ride your horse thither in time to dispose of him; however, we shall see; your arm must be bandaged, friend; after which I will bleed you, and administer a composing draught.’

To be short, the surgeon did as he proposed, and when he had administered the composing draught, he said, ‘Be of good cheer; I should not be surprised if you are yet in time for Horncastle.’ He then departed with the master of the house, and the woman, leaving me to my repose. I soon began to feel drowsy, and was just composing myself to slumber, lying on my back, as the surgeon had advised me, when I heard steps ascending the stairs, and in a moment more the surgeon entered again, followed by the master of the house. ‘I hope we don’t disturb you,’ said the former; ‘my reason for returning is to relieve your mind from any anxiety with respect to your horse. I am by no means sure that you will be able, owing to your accident, to reach Horncastle in time; to quiet you, however, I will buy your horse for any reasonable sum. I have been down to the stable, and approve of his figure. What do you ask for him?’ ‘This is a strange time of night,’ said I, ‘to come to me about purchasing my horse, and I am hardly in a fitting situation to be applied to about such a matter. What do you want him for?’ ‘For my own use,’ said the surgeon; ‘I am a professional man, and am obliged to be continually driving about; I cover at least one hundred and fifty miles every week.’ ‘He will never answer your purpose,’ said I; ‘he is not a driving horse, and was never between shafts in his life; he is for riding, more especially for trotting, at which he has few equals.’ ‘It matters not to me whether he is for riding or driving,’ said the surgeon; ‘sometimes I ride, sometimes drive; so if we can come to terms, I will buy him, though remember it is chiefly to remove any anxiety from your mind about him.’ ‘This is no time for bargaining,’ said I, ‘if you wish to have the horse for a hundred guineas, you may; if not —’ ‘A hundred guineas!’ said the surgeon. ‘My good friend, you must surely be light-headed; allow me to feel your pulse,’ and he attempted to feel my left wrist. ‘I am not light-headed,’ said I, ‘and I require no one to feel my pulse; but I should be light-headed if I were to sell my horse for less than I have demanded; but I have a curiosity to know what you would be willing to offer.’ ‘Thirty pounds,’ said the surgeon, ‘is all I can afford to give, and that is a great deal for a country surgeon to offer for a horse.’ ‘Thirty pounds,’ said I, ‘why he cost me nearly double that sum. To tell you the truth, I am afraid you want to take advantage of my situation.’ ‘Not in the least, friend,’ said the surgeon —‘not in the least; I only wished to set your mind at rest about your horse; but as you think he is worth more than I can afford to offer, take him to Horncastle by all means; I will do my best to cure you in time. Good night, I will see you again on the morrow.’ Thereupon he once more departed with the master of the house. ‘A sharp one,’ I heard him say, with a laugh, as the door closed upon him.

Left to myself, I again essayed to compose myself to rest, but for some time in vain. I had been terribly shaken by my fall, and had subsequently, owing to the incision of the surgeon’s lancet, been deprived of much of the vital fluid; it is when the body is in such a state that the merest trifles affect and agitate the mind; no wonder, then, that the return of the surgeon and the master of the house for the purpose of inquiring whether I would sell my horse, struck me as being highly extraordinary, considering the hour of the night, and the situation in which they knew me to be. What could they mean by such conduct — did they wish to cheat me of the animal? ‘Well, well,’ said I, ‘if they did, what matters, they found their match; yes, yes,’ said I, ‘but I am in their power, perhaps’— but I instantly dismissed the apprehension which came into my mind, with a pooh, nonsense! in a little time, however, a far more foolish and chimerical idea began to disturb me — the idea of being flung from my horse? was I not disgraced for ever as a horseman by being flung from my horse? Assuredly, I thought; and the idea of being disgraced as a horseman, operating on my nervous system, caused me very acute misery. ‘After all,’ said I to myself, ‘it was perhaps the contemptible opinion which the surgeon must have formed of my equestrian powers, which induced him to offer to take my horse off my hands; he perhaps thought I was unable to manage a horse, and therefore in pity returned in the dead of night to offer to purchase the animal which had flung me; and then the thought that the surgeon had conceived a contemptible opinion of my equestrian powers, caused me the acutest misery, and continued tormenting me until some other idea (I have forgot what it was, but doubtless equally foolish) took possession of my mind. At length, brought on by the agitation of my spirits, there came over me the same feeling of horror that I had experienced of old when I was a boy, and likewise of late within the dingle; it was, however, not so violent as it had been on those occasions, and I struggled manfully against it, until by degrees it passed away, and then I fell asleep; and in my sleep I had an ugly dream. I dreamt that I had died of the injuries I had received from my fall, and that no sooner had my soul departed from my body than it entered that of a quadruped, even my own horse in the stable — in a word, I was, to all intents and purposes, my own steed; and as I stood in the stable chewing hay (and I remember that the hay was exceedingly tough), the door opened, and the surgeon who had attended me came in. ‘My good animal,’ said he, ‘as your late master has scarcely left enough to pay for the expenses of his funeral, and nothing to remunerate me for my trouble, I shall make bold to take possession of you. If your paces are good, I shall keep you for my own riding; if not I shall take you to Horncastle, your original destination.’ He then bridled and saddled me, and, leading me out, mounted, and then trotted me up and down before the house, at the door of which the old man, who now appeared to be dressed in regular jockey fashion, was standing. ‘I like his paces well,’ said the surgeon; ‘I think I shall take him for my own use.’ ‘And what am I to have for all the trouble his master caused me?’ said my late entertainer, on whose countenance I now observed, for the first time, a diabolical squint. ‘The consciousness of having done your duty to a fellow-creature in succouring him in a time of distress, must be your reward,’ said the surgeon. ‘Pretty gammon, truly,’ said my late entertainer; ‘what would you say if I were to talk in that way to you? Come, unless you choose to behave jonnock, 157 I shall take the bridle and lead the horse back into the stable.’ ‘Well,’ said the surgeon, ‘we are old friends, and I don’t wish to dispute with you, so I’ll tell you what I will do; I will ride the animal to Horncastle, and we will share what he fetches like brothers.’ ‘Good,’ said the old man, ‘but if you say that you have sold him for less than a hundred, I shan’t consider you jonnock; remember what the young fellow said — that young fellow —.’ I heard no more, for the next moment I found myself on a broad road leading, as I supposed, in the direction of Horncastle, the surgeon still in the saddle, and my legs moving at a rapid trot. ‘Get on,’ said the surgeon, jerking my mouth with the bit; whereupon, full of rage, I instantly set off at a full gallop, determined, if possible, to dash my rider to the earth. The surgeon, however, kept his seat, and, so far from attempting to abate my speed, urged me on to greater efforts with a stout stick, which methought he held in his hand. In vain did I rear and kick, attempting to get rid of my foe; but the surgeon remained as saddle-fast as ever the Maugrabin sorcerer in the Arabian tale what time he rode the young prince transformed into a steed to his enchanted palace in the wilderness. At last, as I was still madly dashing on, panting and blowing, and had almost given up all hope, I saw at a distance before me a heap of stones by the side of the road, probably placed there for the purpose of repairing it; a thought appeared to strike me — I will shy at those stones, and if I can’t get rid of him so, resign myself to my fate. So I increased my speed, till arriving within about ten yards of the heap, I made a desperate start, turning half round with nearly the velocity of a millstone. Oh, the joy I experienced when I felt my enemy canted over my neck, and saw him lying senseless in the road. ‘I have you now in my power,’ I said, or rather neighed, as, going up to my prostrate foe, I stood over him. ‘Suppose I were to rear now, and let my fore feet fall upon you, what would your life be worth? that is, supposing you are not killed already; but lie there, I will do you no farther harm, but trot to Horncastle without a rider, and when there —’ and without further reflection off I trotted in the direction of Horncastle, but had not gone far before my bridle, falling from my neck, got entangled with my off fore foot. I felt myself falling, a thrill of agony shot through me — my knees would be broken, and what should I do at Horncastle with a pair of broken knees? I struggled, but I could not disengage my off fore foot, and downward I fell, but before I had reached the ground I awoke, and found myself half out of bed, my bandaged arm in considerable pain, and my left hand just touching the floor.

With some difficulty I readjusted myself in bed. It was now early morning, and the first rays of the sun were beginning to penetrate the white curtains of a window on my left, which probably looked into a garden, as I caught a glimpse or two of the leaves of trees through a small uncovered part at the side. For some time I felt uneasy and anxious, my spirits being in a strange fluttering state. At last my eyes fell upon a small row of tea-cups, seemingly of china, which stood on a mantelpiece exactly fronting the bottom of the bed. The sight of these objects, I know not why, soothed and pacified me; I kept my eyes fixed upon them, as I lay on my back on the bed, with my head upon the pillow, till at last I fell into a calm and refreshing sleep.

157 Fair, straightforward (dialect).

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