The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 30

Triumphal Departure — No Season Like Youth — Extreme Old Age — Beautiful England — The Ratcatcher — A Misadventure

I departed from the inn much in the same fashion as I had come to it, mounted on a splendid horse indifferently well caparisoned, with the small valise attached to my crupper, in which, besides the few things I had brought with me, was a small book of roads with a map, which had been presented to me by the landlord. I must not forget to state that I did not ride out of the yard, but that my horse was brought to me at the front door by old Bill, who insisted upon doing so, and who refused a five-shilling piece which I offered him; and it will be as well to let the reader know that the landlord shook me by the hand as I mounted, and that the people attached to the inn, male and female — my friend the postillion at the head — assembled before the house to see me off, and gave me three cheers as I rode away. Perhaps no person ever departed from an inn with more eclat or better wishes; nobody looked at me askance, except two stage-coachmen who were loitering about, one of whom said to his companion, ‘I say, Jim! twig his portmanteau! a regular Newmarket turn out by ——!’

It was in the cool of the evening of a bright day — all the days of that summer were bright — that I departed. I felt at first rather melancholy at finding myself again launched into the wide world, and leaving the friends whom I had lately made behind me; but by occasionally trotting the horse, and occasionally singing a song of Romanvile, 154 I had dispelled the feeling of melancholy by the time I had proceeded three miles down the main road. It was at the end of these three miles, just opposite a milestone, that I struck into a cross road. After riding about seven miles, threading what are called, in postillion parlance, cross-country roads, I reached another high road, tending to the east, along which I proceeded for a mile or two, when coming to a small inn, about nine o’clock, I halted and put up for the night.

Early on the following morning I proceeded on my journey, but fearing to gall the horse, I no longer rode him, but led him by the bridle, until I came to a town at the distance of about ten miles from the place where I had passed the night. Here I stayed during the heat of the day, more on the horse’s account than my own, and towards evening resumed my journey, leading the animal by the bridle as before; and in this manner I proceeded for several days, travelling on an average from twenty to twenty-five miles a day, always leading the animal, except perhaps now and then of an evening, when, if I saw a good piece of road before me, I would mount and put the horse into a trot, which the creature seemed to enjoy as much as myself, showing his satisfaction by snorting and neighing, whilst I gave utterance to my own exhilaration by shouts, or by ‘the chi she is kaulo she soves pre lakie dumo,’ 155 or by something else of the same kind in Romanvile.

On the whole, I journeyed along very pleasantly, certainly quite as pleasantly as I do at present, now that I am become a gentleman, and weigh sixteen stone, though some people would say that my present manner of travelling is much the most preferable, riding as I now do, instead of leading my horse; receiving the homage of ostlers instead of their familiar nods; sitting down to dinner in the parlour of the best inn I can find, instead of passing the brightest part of the day in the kitchen of a village alehouse; carrying on my argument after dinner on the subject of the corn-laws, with the best commercial gentlemen on the road, instead of being glad, whilst sipping a pint of beer, to get into conversation with blind trampers, or maimed Abraham sailors, 156 regaling themselves on half-pints at the said village hostelries. Many people will doubtless say that things have altered wonderfully with me for the better, and they would say right, provided I possessed now what I then carried about with me in my journeys — the spirit of youth. Youth is the only season for enjoyment, and the first twenty-five years of one’s life are worth all the rest of the longest life of man, even though those five-and-twenty be spent in penury and contempt, and the rest in the possession of wealth, honours, respectability, ay, and many of them in strength and health, such as will enable one to ride forty miles before dinner, and over one’s pint of port — for the best gentleman in the land should not drink a bottle — carry on one’s argument, with gravity and decorum, with any commercial gentleman who, responsive to one’s challenge, takes the part of common sense and humanity against ‘protection’ and the lord of land.

Ah! there is nothing like youth — not that after-life is valueless. Even in extreme old age one may get on very well, provided we will but accept of the bounties of God. I met the other day an old man, who asked me to drink. ‘I am not thirsty,’ said I, ‘and will not drink with you.’ ‘Yes, you will,’ said the old man, ‘for I am this day one hundred years old; and you will never again have an opportunity of drinking the health of a man on his hundredth birthday.’ So I broke my word, and drank. ‘Yours is a wonderful age,’ said I. ‘It’s a long time to look back to the beginning of it,’ said the old man: ‘yet, upon the whole, I am not sorry to have lived it all.’ ‘How have you passed your time?’ said I. ‘As well as I could,’ said the old man; ‘always enjoying a good thing when it came honestly within my reach; not forgetting to praise God for putting it there.’ ‘I suppose you were fond of a glass of good ale when you were young?’ ‘Yes,’ said the old man, ‘I was; and so, thank God, I am still.’ And he drank off a glass of ale.

On I went in my journey, traversing England from west to east — ascending and descending hills — crossing rivers by bridge and ferry — and passing over extensive plains. What a beautiful country is England! People run abroad to see beautiful countries, and leave their own behind unknown, unnoticed — their own the most beautiful! And then, again, what a country for adventures! especially to those who travel it on foot, or on horseback. People run abroad in quest of adventures, and traverse Spain and Portugal on mule or on horseback; whereas there are ten times more adventures to be met with in England than in Spain, Portugal, or stupid Germany to boot. Witness the number of adventures narrated in the present book — a book entirely devoted to England. Why, there is not a chapter in the present book which is not full of adventures, with the exception of the present one, and this is not yet terminated.

After traversing two or three counties, I reached the confines of Lincolnshire. During one particularly hot day I put up at a public-house, to which, in the evening, came a party of harvesters to make merry, who, finding me wandering about the house a stranger, invited me to partake of their ale; so I drank with the harvesters, who sang me songs about rural life, such as —

‘Sitting in the swale; and listening to the swindle of the flail, as it sounds dub-a-dub on the corn, from the neighbouring barn.’

In requital for which I treated them with a song, not of Romanvile, but the song of ‘Sivord and the horse Grayman.’ I remained with them till it was dark, having, after sunset, entered into deep discourse with a celebrated ratcatcher, who communicated to me the secrets of his trade, saying, amongst other things, ‘When you see the rats pouring out of their holes, and running up my hands and arms, it’s not after me they comes, but after the oils I carries about me they comes;’ and who subsequently spoke in the most enthusiastic manner of his trade, saying that it was the best trade in the world, and most diverting, and that it was likely to last for ever; for whereas all other kinds of vermin were fast disappearing from England, rats were every day becoming more abundant. I had quitted this good company, and having mounted my horse, was making my way towards a town at about six miles’ distance, at a swinging trot, my thoughts deeply engaged on what I had gathered from the ratcatcher, when all on a sudden a light glared upon the horse’s face, who purled round in great terror, and flung me out of the saddle, as from a sling, or with as much violence as the horse Grayman, in the ballad, flings Sivord the Snareswayne. I fell upon the ground — felt a kind of crashing about my neck — and forthwith became senseless.

154 Probably meant for ‘gypsydom,’ but properly old cant for ‘London.’ Rome is here Shelta, or Gaelic back-slang for mor, ‘great.’

155 ‘The girl she is black, She lies on her back.’

which looks like a translation of some English ditty.

156 Sham sailors (old cant).

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51