The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 42

A Short-Tempered Person — Gravitation — The Best Endowment — Mary Fulcher — Fair Dealing — Horse-Witchery — Darius and His Groom — The Jockey’s Tricks — The Two Characters — The Jockey’s Song

The jockey, having taken off his coat and advanced towards me, as I have stated in the preceding chapter, exclaimed, in an angry tone, ‘This is the third time you have interrupted me in my tale, Mr. Rye; I passed over the two first times with a simple warning, but you will now please to get up and give me the satisfaction of a man.’

‘I am really sorry,’ said I, ‘if I have given you offence, but you were talking of our English habit of bestowing nicknames, and I could not refrain from giving a few examples tending to prove what a very ancient habit it is.’

‘But you interrupted me,’ said the jockey, ‘and put me out of my tale, which you had no right to do; and as for your examples, how do you know that I wasn’t going to give some as old or older than yourn. Now stand up, and I’ll make an example of you.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘I confess it was wrong in me to interrupt you, and I ask your pardon.’

‘That won’t do,’ said the jockey, ‘asking pardon won’t do.’

‘Oh,’ said I, getting up, ‘if asking pardon does not satisfy you, you are a different man from what I considered you.’

But here the Hungarian, also getting up, interposed his tall form and pipe between us, saying in English, scarcely intelligible, ‘Let there be no dispute! As for myself, I am very much obliged to the young man of Horncastle for his interruption, though he has told me that one of his dirty townsmen called me “Long-stockings.” By Isten! there is more learning in what he has just said, than in all the verdammt English histories of Thor and Tzernebock I ever read.’

‘I care nothing for his learning,’ said the jockey. ‘I consider myself as good a man as he, for all his learning; so stand out of the way, Mr. Sixfoot-eleven, or —’

‘I shall do no such thing,’ said the Hungarian. ‘I wonder you are not ashamed of yourself. You ask young man to drink champagne with you, you make him dronk, he interrupt you with very good sense; he ask your pardon, yet you not —’

‘Well,’ said the jockey, ‘I am satisfied. I am rather a short-tempered person, but I bear no malice. He is, as you say, drinking my wine, and has perhaps taken a drop too much, not being used to such high liquor; but one doesn’t like to be put out of one’s tale, more especially when one was about to moralize, do you see, oneself, and to show off what little learning one has. However, I bears no malice. Here is a hand to each of you: we’ll take another glass each, and think no more about it.’

The jockey having shaken both of our hands, and filled our glasses and his own with what champagne remained in the bottle, put on his coat, sat down, and resumed his pipe and story.

‘Where was I? Oh, roaming about the country with Hopping Ned and Biting Giles. Those were happy days, and a merry and prosperous life we led. However, nothing continues under the sun in the same state in which it begins, and our firm was soon destined to undergo a change. We came to a village where there was a very high church steeple, and in a little time my comrades induced a crowd of people to go and see me display my gift by flinging stones above the heads of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who stood at the four corners on the top, carved in stone. The parson, seeing the crowd, came waddling out of his rectory to see what was going on. After I had flung up the stones, letting them fall just were I liked — and one, I remember, fell on the head of Mark, where I dare say it remains to the present day — the parson, who was one of the description of people called philosophers, held up his hand, and asked me to let the next stone I flung up fall into it. He wished, do you see, to know with what weight the stone would fall down, and talked something about gravitation — a word which I could never understand to the present day, save that it turned out a grave matter to me. I, like a silly fellow myself, must needs consent, and, flinging the stone up to a vast height, contrived so that it fell into the parson’s hand, which it cut dreadfully. The parson flew into a great rage, more particularly as everybody laughed at him, and, being a magistrate, ordered his clerk, who was likewise constable, to conduct me to prison as a rogue and a vagabond, telling my comrades that if they did not take themselves off, he would serve them in the same manner. So Ned hopped off, and Giles ran after him, without making any gathering, and I was led to Bridewell, my mittimus following at the end of a week, the parson’s hand not permitting him to write before that time. In the Bridewell I remained a month, when, being dismissed, I went in quest of my companions, whom, after some time, I found up, but they refused to keep my company any longer; telling me that I was a dangerous character, likely to bring them more trouble than profit; they had, moreover, filled up my place. Going into a cottage to ask for a drink of water, they saw a country fellow making faces to amuse his children; the faces were so wonderful that Hopping Ned and Biting Giles at once proposed taking him into partnership, and the man — who was a fellow not very fond of work — after a little entreaty, went away with them. I saw him exhibit his gift, and couldn’t blame the others for preferring him to me; he was a proper ugly fellow at all times, but when he made faces his countenance was like nothing human. He was called Ugly Moses. I was so amazed at his faces, that though poor myself I gave him sixpence, which I have never grudged to this day, for I never saw anything like them. The firm throve wonderfully after he had been admitted into it. He died some little time ago, keeper of a public-house, which he had been enabled to take from the profits of his faces. A son of his, one of the children he was making faces to when my comrades entered his door, is at present a barrister, and a very rising one. He has his gift — he has not, it is true, the gift of the gab, but he has something better, he was born with a grin on his face, a quiet grin; he would not have done to grin through a collar like his father, and would never have been taken up by Hopping Ned and Biting Giles, but that grin of his caused him to be noticed by a much greater person than either; an attorney observing it took a liking to the lad, and prophesied that he would some day be heard of in the world; and in order to give him the first lift, took him into his office, at first to light fires and do such kind of work, and after a little time taught him to write, then promoted him to a desk, articled him afterwards, and being unmarried and without children, left him what he had when he died. The young fellow, after practising at the law some time, went to the bar, where, in a few years, helped on by his grin, for he had nothing else to recommend him, he became, as I said before, a rising barrister. He comes our circuit, and I occasionally employ him, when I am obliged to go to law about such a thing as an unsound horse. He generally brings me through — or rather that grin of his does — and yet I don’t like the fellow, confound him, but I’m an oddity; no, the one I like, and whom I generally employ, is a fellow quite different, a bluff sturdy dog, with no grin on his face, but with a look which seems to say I am an honest man, and what cares I for anyone. And an honest man he is, and something more. I have known coves with a better gift of the gab, though not many, but he always speaks to the purpose, and understands law thoroughly; and that’s not all. When at college, for he has been at college, he carried off everything before him as a Latiner, and was first-rate at a game they called matthew mattocks. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I have heard that he who is first-rate at matthew mattocks 168 is thought more of than if he were first-rate Latiner.

‘Well, the chap that I’m talking about, not only came out first-rate Latiner, but first-rate at matthew mattocks too; doing, in fact, as I am told by those who knows, for I was never at college myself, what no one had ever done before. Well, he makes his appearance at our circuit, does very well, of course, but he has a somewhat high front, as becomes an honest man, and one who has beat every one at Latin and matthew mattocks; and who can speak first-rate law and sense; — but see now, the cove with the grin, who has like myself never been at college; knows nothing of Latin, or matthew mattocks, and has no particular gift of the gab, has two briefs for his one, and I suppose very properly, for that grin of his curries favour with the juries; and mark me, that grin of his will enable him to beat the other in the long run. We all know what all barrister coves looks forward to — a seat on the hop sack. Well, I’ll bet a bull to fivepence, that the grinner gets upon it, and the snarler doesn’t; at any rate, that he gets there first. I calls my cove — for he is my cove — a snarler; because your first-rates at matthew mattocks are called snarlers, and for no other reason; for the chap, though with a high front, is a good chap, and once drank a glass of ale with me, after buying an animal out of my stable. I have often thought it a pity that he wasn’t born with a grin on his face, like the son of Ugly Moses. It is true he would scarcely then have been an out and outer at Latin and matthew mattocks, but what need of either to a chap born with a grin? Talk of being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth; give me a cove born with a grin on his face — a much better endowment.

‘I will now shorten my history as much as I can, for we have talked as much as folks do during a whole night in the Commons’ House, though, of course, not with so much learning, or so much to the purpose, because — why? They are in the House of Commons, and we in a public room of an inn at Horncastle. The goodness of the ale do you see, never depending on what it is made of, oh, no! but on the fashion and appearance of the jug in which it is served up. After being turned out of the firm, I got my living in two or three honest ways, which I shall not trouble you with describing. I did not like any of them, however, as they did not exactly suit my humour; at last I found one which did. One Saturday forenoon I chanced to be in the cattle-market of a place about eighty miles from here; there I won the favour of an old gentleman who sold dickeys. He had a very shabby squad of animals, without soul or spirit; nobody would buy them, till I leaped upon their hinder ends, and by merely wriggling in a particular manner, made them caper and bound so to people’s liking, that in a few hours every one of them was sold at very sufficient prices. The old gentleman was so pleased with my skill, that he took me home with him, and in a very little time into partnership. It’s a good thing to have a gift, but yet better to have two. I might have got a very decent livelihood by throwing stones, but I much question whether I should ever have attained to the position in society which I now occupy, but for my knowledge of animals. I lived very comfortably with the old gentleman till he died, which he did about a fortnight after he had laid his old lady in the ground. Having no children, he left me what should remain after he had been buried decently, and the remainder was six dickeys and thirty shillings in silver. I remained in the dickey trade ten years, during which time I saved a hundred pounds. I then embarked in the horse line. One day, being in the —— market on a Saturday, I saw Mary Fulcher with a halter round her neck, led about by a man, who offered to sell her for eighteenpence. I took out the money forthwith and bought her; the man was her husband, a basket-maker, with whom she had lived several years without having any children; he was a drunken, quarrelsome fellow, and having had a dispute with her the day before, he determined to get rid of her, by putting a halter round her neck, and leading her to the cattle-market, as if she were a mare, which he had, it seems, a right to do; all women being considered mares by old English law, and, indeed, still called mares in certain counties, where genuine old English is still preserved. That same afternoon, the man who had been her husband, having got drunk in a public-house with the money which he had received for her, quarrelled with another man, and receiving a blow under the ear, fell upon the floor, and died of artiflex; and in less than three weeks I was married to Mary Fulcher, by virtue of regular bans. I am told she was legally my property by virtue of my having bought her with a halter round her neck; but, to tell you the truth, I think everybody should live by his trade, and I didn’t wish to act shabbily towards our parson, who is a good fellow, and has certainly a right to his fees. A better wife than Mary Fulcher — I mean Mary Dale — no one ever had; she has borne me several children, and has at all times shown a willingness to oblige me, and to be my faithful wife. Amongst other things, I begged her to have done with her family, and I believe she has never spoken to them since.

‘I have thriven very well in business, and my name is up as being a person who can be depended on, when folks treats me handsomely. I always makes a point when a gentleman comes to me, and says, “Mr. Dale,” or “John”— for I have no objection to be called John by a gentleman —“I wants a good horse, and I am ready to pay a good price”— I always makes a point, I say, to furnish him with an animal worth the money; but when I sees a fellow, whether he calls himself gentleman or not, wishing to circumvent me, what does I do? I doesn’t quarrel with him, not I; but, letting him imagine he is taking me in, I contrives to sell him a screw for thirty pounds, not worth forty shillings. All honest respectable people have at present great confidence in me, and frequently commissions me to buy them horses at great fairs like this.

‘This short young gentleman was recommended to me by a great landed proprietor, to whom he bore letters of recommendation from some great prince in his own country, who had a long time ago been entertained at the house of the landed proprietor, and the consequence is, that I brings young six foot six to Horncastle, and purchases for him the horse of the Romany Rye. I don’t do these kind things for nothing, it is true; that can’t be expected; for every one must live by his trade; but, as I said before, when I am treated handsomely, I treat folks so. Honesty, I have discovered, as perhaps some other people have, is by far the best policy; though, as I also said before, when I’m along with thieves, I can beat them at their own game. If I am obliged to do it, I can pass off the veriest screw as a flying drummedary, for even when I was a child I had found out by various means what may be done with animals. I wish now to ask a civil question, Mr. Romany Rye. Certain folks have told me that you are a horse witch, are you one, or are you not?’

‘I, like yourself,’ said I, ‘know, to a certain extent, what may be done with animals.’

‘Then how would you, Mr. Romany Rye, pass off the veriest screw in the world for a flying drummedary?’

‘By putting a small live eel down his throat; as long as the eel remained in his stomach, the horse would appear brisk and lively in a surprising degree.’

‘And how would you contrive to make a regular kicker and biter appear so tame and gentle, that any respectable fat old gentleman of sixty, who wanted an easy goer, would be glad to purchase him for fifty pounds?’

‘By pouring down his throat four pints of generous old ale, which would make him so happy and comfortable, that he would not have the heart to kick or bite anybody, for a season at least.’

‘And where did you learn all this?’ said the jockey.

‘I have read about the eel in an old English book, and about the making drunk in a Spanish novel, and, singularly enough, I was told the same things by a wild blacksmith in Ireland. Now tell me, do you bewitch horses in this way?’

‘I?’ said the jockey; ‘mercy upon us! I wouldn’t do such things for a hatful of money. No, no, preserve me from live eels and hocussing! And now let me ask you, how you would spirit a horse out of a field?’

‘How would I spirit a horse out of a field?’

‘Yes! supposing you were down in the world, and had determined on taking up the horse-stealing line of business.’

‘Why I should —. But I tell you what, friend, I see you are trying to pump me, and I tell you plainly that I will hear something from you with respect to your art, before I tell you anything more. Now, how would you whisper a horse out of a field, provided you were down in the world, and so forth?’

‘Ah, ah, I see you are up to game, Mr. Romany: however, I am a gentleman in mind, if not by birth, and I scorn to do the unhandsome thing to anybody who has dealt fairly towards me. Now, you told me something I didn’t know, and I’ll tell you something which perhaps you do know. I whispers a horse out of a field in this way: I have a mare in my stable; well, in the early season of the year I goes into my stable — Well, I puts the sponge into a small bottle which I keeps corked. I takes my bottle in my hand, and goes into a field, suppose by night, where there is a very fine stag horse. I manage with great difficulty to get within ten yards of the horse, who stands staring at me just ready to run away. I then uncorks my bottle, presses my fore-finger to the sponge, and holds it out to the horse; the horse gives a sniff, then a start, and comes nearer. I corks up my bottle and puts it into my pocket. My business is done, for the next two hours the horse would follow me anywhere — the difficulty, indeed, would be to get rid of him. Now, is that your way of doing business?’

‘My way of doing business? Mercy upon us! I wouldn’t steal a horse in that way, or, indeed, in any way, for all the money in the world: however, let me tell you, for your comfort, that a trick somewhat similar is described in the history of Herodotus.’

‘In the history of Herod’s ass!’ said the jockey; ‘well, if I did write a book, it should be about something more genteel than a dickey.’

‘I did not say Herod’s ass!’ said I, ‘but Herodotus, a very genteel writer, I assure you, who wrote a history about very genteel people, in a language no less genteel than Greek, more than two thousand years ago. There was a dispute as to who should be king amongst certain imperious chieftains. At last they agreed to obey him whose horse should neigh first on a certain day, in front of the royal palace, before the rising of the sun; for you must know that they did not worship the person who made the sun as we do, but the sun itself. So one of these chieftains, talking over the matter to his groom, and saying he wondered who would be king, the fellow said, “Why, you, master, or I don’t know much about horses.” So the day before the day of trial, what does the groom do but take his master’s horse before the palace and introduce him to a mare in the stable, and then lead him forth again. Well, early the next day all the chieftains on their horses appeared in front of the palace before the dawn of day. Not a horse neighed but one, and that was the horse of him who had consulted with his groom, who, thinking of the animal within the stable, gave such a neigh that all the buildings rang. His rider was forthwith elected king, and a brave king he was. So this shows what seemingly wonderful things may be brought about by a little preparation.’

‘It doth,’ said the jockey; ‘what was the chap’s name?’

‘His name — his name — Darius Hystaspes.’

‘And the groom’s?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘And he made a good king?’


‘Only think! well, if he made a good king, what a wonderful king the groom would have made, through whose knowledge of ‘orses he was put on the throne. And now another question, Mr. Romany Rye, have you particular words which have power to soothe or aggravate horses?’

‘You should ask me,’ said I, ‘whether I have horses that can be aggravated or soothed by particular words. No words have any particular power over horses or other animals who have never heard them before — how should they? But certain animals connect ideas of misery or enjoyment with particular words which they are acquainted with. I’ll give you an example. I knew a cob in Ireland that could be driven to a state of kicking madness by a particular word, used by a particular person, in a particular tone; but that word was connected with a very painful operation which had been performed upon him by that individual, who had frequently employed it at a certain period whilst the animal had been under his treatment. The same cob could be soothed in a moment by another word, used by the same individual in a very different kind of tone — the word was deaghblasda, or sweet tasted. Some time after the operation, whilst the cob was yet under his hands, the fellow — who was what the Irish call a fairy smith — had done all he could to soothe the creature, and had at last succeeded by giving it gingerbread-buttons, of which the cob became passionately fond. Invariably, however, before giving it a button, he said, “Deaghblasda,” with which word the cob by degrees associated an idea of unmixed enjoyment: so if he could rouse the cob to madness by the word which recalled the torture to its remembrance, he could as easily soothe it by the other word, which the cob knew would be instantly followed by the button, which the smith never failed to give him after using the word deaghblasda.’

‘There is nothing wonderful to be done,’ said the jockey, ‘without a good deal of preparation, as I know myself. Folks stare and wonder at certain things which they would only laugh at if they knew how they were done; and to prove what I say is true, I will give you one or two examples. Can either of you lend me a handkerchief? That won’t do,’ said he, as I presented him with a silk one. ‘I wish for a delicate white handkerchief. That’s just the kind of thing,’ said he, as the Hungarian offered him a fine white cambric handkerchief, beautifully worked with gold at the hems; ‘now you shall see me set this handkerchief on fire.’ ‘Don’t let him do so by any means,’ said the Hungarian, speaking to me in German, ‘it is the gift of a lady whom I highly admire, and I would not have it burnt for the world.’ ‘He has no occasion to be under any apprehension,’ said the jockey, after I had interpreted to him what the Hungarian had said, ‘I will restore it to him uninjured, or my name is not Jack Dale.’ Then sticking the handkerchief carelessly into the left side of his bosom, he took the candle, which by this time had burnt very low, and holding his head back, he applied the flame to the handkerchief, which instantly seemed to catch fire. ‘What do you think of that?’ said he to the Hungarian. ‘Why, that you have ruined me,’ said the latter. ‘No harm done, I assure you,’ said the jockey, who presently, clapping his hand on his bosom, extinguished the fire, and returned the handkerchief to the Hungarian, asking him if it was burnt. ‘I see no burn upon it,’ said the Hungarian; ‘but in the name of Gott how could you set it on fire without burning it?’ ‘I never set it on fire at all,’ said the jockey; ‘I set this on fire,’ showing us a piece of half-burnt calico. ‘I placed this calico above it, and lighted not the handkerchief, but the rag. Now, I will show you something else. I have a magic shilling in my pocket, which I can make run up along my arm. But, first of all, I would gladly know whether either of you can do the like.’ Thereupon the Hungarian and myself, putting our hands into our pockets, took out shillings, and endeavoured to make them run up our arms, but utterly failed; both shillings, after we had made two or three attempts, falling to the ground. ‘What noncomposses you both are,’ said the jockey; and, placing a shilling on the end of the fingers of his right hand, he made strange faces to it, drawing back his head, whereupon the shilling instantly began to run up his arm, occasionally hopping and jumping as if it were bewitched, always endeavouring to make towards the head of the jockey.

‘How do I do that?’ said he, addressing himself to me. ‘I really do not know,’ said I, ‘unless it is by the motion of your arm.’ ‘The motion of my nonsense,’ said the jockey, and, making a dreadful grimace, the shilling hopped upon his knee, and began to run up his thigh and to climb his breast. ‘How is that done?’ said he again. ‘By witchcraft, I suppose,’ said I. ‘There you are right,’ said the jockey; ‘by the withcraft of one of Miss Berners’ hairs; the end of one of her long hairs is tied to that shilling by means of a hole in it, and the other end goes round my neck by means of a loop; so that, when I draw back my head, the shilling follows it. I suppose you wish to know how I got the hair,’ said he, grinning at me. ‘I will tell you. I once, in the course of my ridings, saw Miss Berners beneath a hedge, combing out her long hair, and, being rather a modest kind of person, what must I do but get off my horse, tie him to a gate, go up to her, and endeavour to enter into conversation with her. After giving her the sele of the day, and complimenting her on her hair, I asked her to give me one of the threads; whereupon she gave me such a look, and, calling me fellow, told me to take myself off. “I must have a hair first,” said I, making a snatch at one. I believe I hurt her; but, whether I did or not, up she started, and, though her hair was unbound, gave me the only drubbing I ever had in my life. Lor! how, with her right hand, she fibbed me whilst she held me round the neck with her left arm; I was soon glad to beg her pardon on my knees, which she gave me in a moment when she saw me in that condition, being the most placable creature in the world, and not only her pardon, but one of the hairs which I longed for, which I put through a shilling, with which I have on evenings after fairs, like this, frequently worked what seemed to those who looked on downright witchcraft, but which is nothing more than pleasant deception. And now, Mr. Romany Rye, to testify my regard for you, I give you the shilling and the hair. I think you have a kind of respect for Miss Berners; but whether you have or not, keep them as long as you can, and whenever you look at them think of the finest woman in England, and of John Dale, the jockey of Horncastle. I believe I have told you my history,’ said he —‘no, not quite; there is one circumstance I had passed over. I told you that I have thriven very well in business, and so I have upon the whole: at any rate, I find myself comfortably off now. I have horses, money, and owe nobody a groat; at any rate, nothing but what I could pay tomorrow. Yet I have had my dreary day, ay, after I had obtained what I call a station in the world. All of a sudden, about five years ago, everything seemed to go wrong with me — horses became sick or died, people who owed me money broke or ran away, my house caught fire, in fact, everything went against me; and not from any mismanagement of my own. I looked round for help, but — what do you think? — nobody would help me. Somehow or other it had got abroad that I was in difficulties, and everybody seemed disposed to avoid me, as if I had got the plague. Those who were always offering me help when I wanted none, now, when they thought me in trouble, talked of arresting me. Yes, two particular friends of mine, who had always been offering me their purses when my own was stuffed full, now talked of arresting me, though I only owed the scoundrels a hundred pounds each; and they would have done so, provided I had not paid them what I owed them; and how did I do that? Why, I was able to do it because I found a friend — and who was that friend? Why, a man who has since been hung, of whom everybody has heard, and of whom everybody for the next hundred years will occasionally talk.

‘One day, whilst in trouble, I was visited by a person 169 I had occasionally met at sporting dinners. He came to look after a Suffolk Punch, the best horse, by-the-by, that anybody can purchase to drive, it being the only animal of the horse kind in England that will pull twice at a dead weight. I told him that I had none at that time that I could recommend; in fact, that every horse in my stable was sick. He then invited me to dine with him at an inn close by, and I was glad to go with him, in the hope of getting rid of unpleasant thoughts. After dinner, during which he talked nothing but slang, observing I looked melancholy, he asked me what was the matter with me, and I, my heart being opened by the wine he had made me drink, told him my circumstances without reserve. With an oath or two for not having treated him at first like a friend, he said he would soon set me all right; and pulling out two hundred pounds, told me to pay him when I could. I felt as I never felt before; however, I took his notes, paid my sneaks, and in less than three months was right again, and had returned him his money. On paying it to him, I said that I had now a Punch which would just suit him, saying that I would give it to him — a free gift — for nothing. He swore at me; telling me to keep my Punch, for that he was suited already. I begged him to tell me how I could requite him for his kindness, whereupon, with the most dreadful oath I ever heard, he bade me come and see him hanged when his time was come. I wrung his hand, and told him I would, and I kept my word. The night before the day he was hanged at H—— 170 I harnessed a Suffolk Punch to my light gig, the same Punch which I had offered to him, which I have ever since kept, and which brought me and this short young man to Horncastle, and in eleven hours I drove that Punch one hundred and ten miles. I arrived at H—— just in the nick of time. There was the ugly jail — the scaffold — and there upon it stood the only friend I ever had in the world. Driving my Punch, which was all in a foam, into the midst of the crowd, which made way for me as if it knew what I came for, I stood up in my gig, took off my hat, and shouted, “God Almighty bless you, Jack!” The dying man turned his pale grim face towards me — for his face was always somewhat grim, do you see — nodded and said, or I thought I heard him say, “All right, old chap.” The next moment . . . my eyes water. He had a high heart, got into a scrape whilst in the marines, lost his half-pay, took to the turf, ring, gambling, and at last cut the throat of a villain who had robbed him of nearly all he had. But he had good qualities, and I know for certain that he never did half the bad things laid to his charge; for example, he never bribed Tom Oliver to fight cross, as it was said he did, on the day of the awful thunderstorm. 171 Ned Flatnose fairly beat Tom Oliver, for though Ned was not what’s called a good fighter, he had a particular blow, which if he could put in he was sure to win. His right shoulder, do you see, was two inches farther back than it ought to have been, and consequently his right fist generally fell short; but if he could swing himself round, and put in a blow with that right arm, he could kill or take away the senses of anybody in the world. It was by putting in that blow in his second fight with Spring that he beat noble Tom. Spring beat him like a sack in the first battle, but in the second Ned Painter — for that was his real name — contrived to put in his blow, and took the senses out of Spring; and in like manner he took the senses out of Tom Oliver.

‘Well, some are born to be hanged, and some are not; and many of those who are not hanged are much worse than those who are. Jack, with many a good quality, is hanged, whilst that fellow of a lord, who wanted to get the horse from you at about two-thirds of his value, without a single good quality in the world, is not hanged, and probably will remain so. You ask the reason why, perhaps. I’ll tell you; the lack of a certain quality called courage, which Jack possessed in abundance, will preserve him; from the love which he bears his own neck he will do nothing which can bring him to the gallows. 172 In my rough way I’ll draw their characters from their childhood, and then ask whether Jack was not the best character of the two. Jack was a rough, audacious boy, fond of fighting, going a birds’-nesting, but I never heard he did anything particularly cruel save once, I believe, tying a canister to a butcher’s dog’s tail; whilst this fellow of a lord was by nature a savage beast, and when a boy would in winter pluck poor fowls naked, and set them running on the ice and in the snow, and was particularly fond of burning cats alive in the fire. Jack, when a lad, gets a commission on board a ship as an officer of horse marines, and in two or three engagements behaves quite up to the mark — at least of a marine; the marines having no particular character for courage you know — never having run to the guns and fired them like madmen after the blue jackets had had more than enough. Oh, dear me, no! My lord gets into the valorous British army, where cowardice — oh, dear me! — is a thing almost entirely unknown; and being on the field of Waterloo the day before the battle, falls off his horse, and, pretending to be hurt in the back, gets himself put on the sick list — a pretty excuse — hurting his back — for not being present at such a fight. Old Benbow, after part of both his legs had been shot away in a sea-fight, made the carpenter make him a cradle to hold his bloody stumps, and continued on deck cheering his men till he died. Jack returns home, and gets into trouble, and having nothing to subsist by but his wits, gets his living by the ring, and the turf, and gambling, doing many an odd kind of thing, I dare say, but not half those laid to his charge. My lord does much the same without the excuse for doing so which Jack had, for he had plenty of means, is a leg, and a black, only in a more polished way, and with more cunning, and I may say success, having done many a rascally thing never laid to his charge. Jack at last cuts the throat of a villain who had cheated him of all he had in the world, and who, I am told, was in many points the counterpart of this screw and white feather, is taken up, tried, and executed; and certainly taking away a man’s life is a dreadful thing; but is there nothing as bad? Whitefeather will cut no person’s throat — I will not say who has cheated him, for, being a cheat himself, he will take good care that nobody cheats him, but he’ll do something quite as bad; out of envy to a person who never injured him, and whom he hates for being more clever and respected than himself, he will do all he possibly can, by backbiting and every unfair means, to do that person a mortal injury. But Jack is hanged, and my lord is not. Is that right? My wife, Mary Fulcher — I beg her pardon, Mary Dale — who is a Methodist, and has heard the mighty preacher, Peter Williams, says some people are preserved from hanging by the grace of God. With her I differs, and says it is from want of courage. This Whitefeather, with one particle of Jack’s courage, and with one tithe of his good qualities, would have been hanged long ago, for he has ten times Jack’s malignity. Jack was hanged because, along with his bad qualities, he had courage and generosity; this fellow is not, because with all Jack’s bad qualities, and many more, amongst which is cunning, he has neither courage nor generosity. Think of a fellow like that putting down two hundred pounds to relieve a distressed fellow-creature; why he would rob, but for the law and the fear it fills him with, a workhouse child of its breakfast, as the saying is — and has been heard to say that he would not trust his own father for sixpence, and he can’t imagine why such a thing as credit should be ever given. I never heard a person give him a good word — stay, stay, yes! I once heard an old parson, to whom I sold a Punch, say that he had the art of receiving company gracefully, and dismissing them without refreshment. I don’t wish to be too hard with him, and so let him make the most of that compliment. Well! he manages to get on, whilst Jack is hanged; not quite enviably, however; he has had his rubs, and pretty hard ones — everybody knows he slunk from Waterloo, and occasionally checks him with so doing; whilst he has been rejected by a woman — what a mortification to the low pride of which the scoundrel has plenty! There’s a song about both circumstances, which may, perhaps, ring in his ears on a dying bed. It’s a funny kind of song, set to the old tune of the Lord–Lieutenant or Deputy, and with it I will conclude my discourse, for I really think it’s past one.’ The jockey then, with a very tolerable voice, sung the following song:

The Jockey’s Song.

Now list to a ditty both funny and true! —

   Merrily moves the dance along —

A ditty that tells of a coward and screw,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

Sir Plume, though not liking a bullet at all —

   Merrily moves the dance along —

Had yet resolution to go to a ball,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

‘Woulez wous danser, mademoiselle?’—

   Merrily moves the dance along —

Said she, ‘Sir, to dance I should like very well,’

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

They danc’d to the left, and they danc’d to the right —

   Merrily moves the dance along —

And her troth the fair damsel bestow’d on the knight,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

‘Now what shall I fetch you mademoiselle?‘—

   Merrily moves the dance along —

Said she, ‘Sir, an ice I should like very well,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

But the ice, when he’d got it, he instantly ate —

   Merrily moves the dance along —

Although his pool partner was all in a fret,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

He ate up the ice like a prudent young lord —

   Merrily moves the dance along —

For he saw ’twas the very last ice on the board,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

‘Now when shall we marry?’ the gentleman cried —

   Merrily moves the dance along —

‘Sir, get you to Jordan,’ the damsel replied,

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

‘I never will wed with the pitiful elf’—

   Merrily moves the dance along —

‘Who ate up the ice which I wanted myself,’

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

‘I’d pardon your backing from red Waterloo,’—

   Merrily moves the dance along —

‘But I never will wed with a coward and screw,’

   My Lord–Lieutenant so free and young.

168 I.e., mathematics.

169 John Thurtell, Borrow’s old Norwich crony, 1817–20, hanged at Hertford, January 9, 1824, for the murder of William Weare.

170 Hertford.

171 July 17, 1820, at North Walsham, Norfolk. See ‘Lavengro.’

172 Cf. the lines from a song which Borrow may have heard in Ireland:

‘And by this time tomorrow you’ll see

Your Larry will be dead as mutton.

  All for what? ‘Caze his courage was good!’

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