The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 43

The Church

The next morning I began to think of departing: I had sewed up the money which I had received for the horse in a portion of my clothing, where I entertained no fears for its safety, with the exception of a small sum in notes, gold, and silver, which I carried in my pocket. Ere departing, however, I determined to stroll about and examine the town, and observe more particularly the humours of the fair than I had hitherto an opportunity of doing. The town, when I examined it, offered no object worthy of attention but its church — an edifice of some antiquity; under the guidance of an old man, who officiated as sexton, I inspected its interior attentively, occasionally conversing with my guide, who, however, seemed much more disposed to talk about horses than the church. ‘No good horses in the fair this time, measter,’ said he; ‘none but one brought hither by a chap whom nobody knows, and bought by a foreigneering man, who came here with Jack Dale. The horse fetched a good swinging price, which is said, however, to be much less than its worth; for the horse is a regular clipper; not such a one, ’tis said, has been seen in the fair for several summers. Lord Whitefeather says that he believes the fellow who brought him to be a highwayman, and talks of having him taken up, but Lord Whitefeather is only in a rage because he could not get him for himself. The chap would not sell it to un; Lord Screw wanted to beat him down, and the chap took huff, said he wouldn’t sell it to him at no price, and accepted the offer of the foreigneering man, or of Jack, who was his ‘terpreter, and who scorned to higgle about such an hanimal, because Jack is a gentleman, though bred a dickey-boy, whilst ‘tother, though bred a lord, is a screw, and a whitefeather. Every one says the cove was right, and I says so too; I likes spirit, and if the cove were here, and in your place, measter, I would invite him to drink a pint of beer. Good horses are scarce now, measter, ay, and so are good men, quite a different set from what there were when I was young; that was the time for men and horses. Lord bless you, I know all the breeders about here; they are not a bad set, and they breed a very fairish set of horses, but they are not like what their fathers were, nor are their horses like their fathers’ horses. Now, there is Mr. —— the great breeder, a very fairish man, with very fairish horses; but, Lord bless you, he’s nothing to what his father was, nor his steeds to his father’s; I ought to know, for I was at the school here with his father, and afterwards for many a year helped him to get up his horses; that was when I was young, measter — those were the days. You look at that monument, measter,’ said he, as I stopped and looked attentively at a monument on the southern side of the church near the altar; ‘that was put up for a rector of this church, who lived a long time ago, in Oliver’s time, and was ill-treated and imprisoned by Oliver and his men; you will see all about it on the monument. There was a grand battle fought nigh this place, between Oliver’s men and the Royal party, and the Royal party had the worst of it, as I’m told they generally had; and Oliver’s men came into the town and did a great deal of damage, and ill-treated people. I can’t remember anything about the matter myself, for it happened just one hundred years before I was born, but my father was acquainted with an old countryman, who lived not many miles from here, who said he remembered perfectly well the day of the battle; that he was a boy at the time, and was working in a field near the place where the battle was fought; and he heard shouting, and noise of firearms, and also the sound of several balls, which fell in the field near him. Come this way, measter, and I will show you some remains of that day’s field.’ Leaving the monument, on which was inscribed an account of the life and sufferings of the Royalist Rector of Horncastle, I followed the sexton to the western end of the church, where, hanging against the wall, were a number of scythes stuck in the ends of poles. ‘Those are the weapons, measter,’ said the sexton, ‘which the great people put into the hands of a number of the country folks, in order that they might use them against Oliver’s men; ugly weapons enough: however, Oliver’s men won, and Sir Jacob Ashley and his party were beat. And a rare time Oliver and his men had of it, till Oliver died, when the other party got the better, not by fighting, ’tis said, but through a General Monk, who turned sides. Ah, the old fellow that my father knew, said he well remembered the time when General Monk went over and proclaimed Charles the Second. Bonfires were lighted everywhere, oxen roasted, and beer drunk by pailfuls; the country folks were drunk with joy, and something else; sung scurvy songs about Oliver to the tune of Barney Banks, and pelted his men, wherever they found them, with stones and dirt.’ ‘The more ungrateful scoundrels they,’ said I. ‘Oliver and his men fought the battle of English independence against a wretched king and corrupt lords. Had I been living at the time, I should have been proud to be a trooper of Oliver.’ ‘You would, measter, would you? Well, I never quarrels with the opinions of people who come to look at the church, and certainly independence is a fine thing. I like to see a chap of an independent spirit, and if I were now to see the cove who refused to sell his horse to my Lord Screw and Whitefeather, and let Jack Dale have him, I would offer to treat him to a pint of beer — e’es I would, verily. Well, measter, you have now seen the church, and all there’s in it worth seeing — so I’ll just lock up, and go and finish digging the grave I was about when you came, after which I must go into the fair to see how matters are going on. Thank ye, measter,’ said he, as I put something into his hand; ‘thank ye kindly; ’tis not every one gives me a shilling nowadays who comes to see the church, but times are very different from what they were when I was young; I was not sexton then, but something better; helped Mr. —— with his horses, and got many a broad crown. Those were the days, measter, both for men and horses — and I say, measter, if men and horses were so much better when I was young than they are now, what, I wonder, must they have been in the time of Oliver and his men?’

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