The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 5

Fresh Arrivals — Pitching the Tent — Certificated Wife — High-Flying Notions

On the following morning, as I was about to leave my tent, I heard the voice of Belle at the door, exclaiming, ‘Sleepest thou, or wakest thou?’ ‘I was never more awake in my life,’ said I, going out. ‘What is the matter?’ ‘He of the horse-shoe,’ 42 said she, ‘Jasper, 43 of whom I have heard you talk, is above there on the field with all his people; I went about a quarter of an hour ago to fill the kettle at the spring, and saw them arriving.’ ‘It is well,’ said I; ‘have you any objection to asking him and his wife to breakfast?’ ‘You can do as you please,’ said she; ‘I have cups enough, and have no objection to their company.’ ‘We are the first occupiers of the ground,’ said I, ‘and being so, should consider ourselves in the light of hosts, and do our best to practise the duties of hospitality.’ ‘How fond you are of using that word,’ said Belle, ‘if you wish to invite the man and his wife, do so, without more ado; remember, however, that I have not cups enough, nor, indeed, tea enough, for the whole company.’ Thereupon hurrying up the ascent, I presently found myself outside the dingle. It was, as usual, a brilliant morning, the dewy blades of the rye-grass which covered the plain sparkled brightly in the beams of the sun, which had probably been about two hours above the horizon. A rather numerous body of my ancient friends and allies occupied the ground in the vicinity of the mouth of the dingle. About five yards on the right I perceived Mr. Petulengro busily employed in erecting his tent; he held in his hand an iron bar, sharp at the bottom, with a kind of arm projecting from the top for the purpose of supporting a kettle or cauldron over the fire, and which is called in the Romanian language, ‘Kekauviskoe saster.’ 44 With the sharp end of this Mr. Petulengro was making holes in the earth at about twenty inches distance from each other, into which he inserted certain long rods, with a considerable bend towards the top, which constituted no less than the timbers of the tent, and the supporters of the canvas. 45 Mrs. Petulengro and a female with a crutch in her hand, whom I recognised as Mrs. Chikno, sat near him on the ground, whilst two or three children, from six to ten years old, who composed the young family of Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro were playing about.

‘Here we are, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, as he drove the sharp end of the bar into the ground; ‘here we are, and plenty of us — Bute dosta Romany chals.’ 46

‘I am glad to see you all,’ said I, ‘and particularly you, madam,’ said I, making a bow to Mrs. Petulengro; ‘and you also, madam,’ taking off my hat to Mrs. Chikno.

‘Good-day to you, sir,’ said Mrs. Petulengro; ‘you look as usual, charmingly, and speak so, too; you have not forgot your manners.’

‘It is not all gold that glitters,’ said Mrs. Chikno. ‘However, good-morrow to you, young rye.’

‘I do not see Tawno,’ said I, looking around; ‘where is he?’

‘Where, indeed!’ said Mrs. Chikno; ‘I don’t know; he who countenances him in the roving line can best answer.’

‘He will be here anon,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘he has merely ridden down a by-road to show a farmer a two-year-old colt, she heard me give him directions, but she can’t be satisfied.’

‘I can’t, indeed,’ said Mrs. Chikno.

‘And why not, sister?’

‘Because I place no confidence in your words, brother; as I said before, you countenances him.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘I know nothing of your private concerns; I am come on an errand. Isopel Berners, down in the dell there, requests the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro’s company at breakfast. She will be happy also to see you, madam,’ said I, addressing Mrs. Chikno.

‘Is that young female your wife, young man?’ said Mrs. Chikno.

‘My wife?’ said I.

‘Yes, young man, your wife, your lawful, certificated wife.’

‘No,’ said I, ‘she is not my wife.’

‘Then I will not visit her,’ said Mrs. Chikno; ‘I countenance nothing in the roving line.’

‘What do you mean by the roving line?’ I demanded.

‘What do I mean by the roving line? Why, by it I mean such conduct as is not tatcheno. 47 When ryes and rawnies 48 lives together in dingles, without being certificated, I calls such behaviour being tolerably deep in the roving-line, everything savouring of which I am determined not to sanctify. I have suffered too much by my own certificated husband’s outbreaks in that line to afford anything of the kind the slightest shadow of countenance.’

‘It is hard that people may not live in dingles together without being suspected of doing wrong,’ said I.

‘So it is,’ said Mrs. Petulengro, interposing; ‘and, to tell you the truth, I am altogether surprised at the illiberality of my sister’s remarks. I have often heard say, that is in good company — and I have kept good company in my time — that suspicion is king’s evidence of a narrow and uncultivated mind, on which account I am suspicious of nobody, not even of my own husband, whom some people would think I have a right to be suspicious of, seeing that on his account I once refused a lord; but ask him whether I am suspicious of him, and whether I seeks to keep him close tied to my apron-string; he will tell you nothing of the kind; but that, on the contrary, I always allows him an agreeable latitude, permitting him to go where he pleases, and to converse with anyone to whose manner of speaking he may take a fancy. But I have had the advantage of keeping good company, and therefore —’

‘Meklis,’ 49 said Mrs. Chikno, ‘pray drop all that, sister; I believe I have kept as good company as yourself, and with respect to that offer with which you frequently fatigue those who keeps company with you, I believe, after all, it was something in the roving and uncertificated line.’

‘In whatever line it was,’ said Mrs. Petulengro, ‘the offer was a good one. The young duke — for he was not only a lord, but a duke too — offered to keep me a fine carriage, and to make me his second wife; for it is true that he had another, who was old and stout, though mighty rich, and highly good-natured, so much so, indeed, that the young lord assured me that she would have no manner of objection to the arrangement, more especially if I would consent to live in the same house with her, being fond of young and cheerful society. So you see —’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Mrs. Chikno, ‘I see what I before thought, that it was altogether in the uncertificated line.’

‘Meklis,’ said Mrs. Petulengro, ‘I use your own word, madam, which is Romany — for my own part, I am not fond of using Romany words, unless I can hope to pass them off for French, which I cannot in the present company. I heartily wish that there was no such language, and do my best to keep it away from my children, lest the frequent use of it should altogether confirm them in low and vulgar habits. I have four children, madam, but —’

‘I suppose by talking of your four children you wish to check me for having none,’ said Mrs. Chikno, bursting into tears; ‘if I have no children, sister, it is no fault of mine, it is — but why do I call you sister?’ said she, angrily, ‘you are no sister of mine, you are a grasni 50 — a regular mare — a pretty sister, indeed, ashamed of your own language. I remember well that by your high-flying notions you drove your own mother —’

‘We will drop it,’ said Mrs. Petulengro; ‘I do not wish to raise my voice, and to make myself ridiculous. Young gentleman,’ said she, ‘pray present my compliments to Miss Isopel Berners, and inform her that I am very sorry that I cannot accept her polite invitation. I am just arrived, and have some slight domestic matters to see to, amongst others, to wash my children’s faces; but that in the course of the forenoon, when I have attended to what I have to do, and have dressed myself, I hope to do myself the honour of paying her a regular visit, you will tell her that with my compliments. With respect to my husband he can answer for himself, as I, not being of a jealous disposition, never interferes with his matters.’

‘And tell Miss Berners,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘that I shall be happy to wait upon her in company with my wife as soon as we are regularly settled: at present I have much on my hands, having not only to pitch my own tent, but this here jealous woman’s, whose husband is absent on my business.’

Thereupon I returned to the dingle, and, without saying anything about Mrs. Chikno’s observations, communicated to Isopel the messages of Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro. Isopel made no other reply than by replacing in her coffer two additional cups and saucers, which, in expectation of company, she had placed upon the board. The kettle was by this time boiling. We sat down, and as we breakfasted, I gave Isopel Berners another lesson in the Armenian language.

42 I.e. Petulengro, the gypsy word for ‘smith.’

43 In the autograph MS. ‘Ambrose’ is written throughout (Kn.).

44 Correctly kekaviako saster, ‘kettle-prop.’

45 It should be ‘blanket.’

46 Plenty of gypsies.

47 Correct.

48 ‘Gentlemen and ladies.’

49 Let it be.

50 Jade.

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