The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 36

Arrival at Horncastle — The Inn and Ostlers — The Garret — Figure of a Man With a Candle

Leaving the house of the old man who knew Chinese, but could not tell what was o’clock, I wended my way to Horncastle, which I reached in the evening of the same day, without having met any adventure on the way worthy of being marked down in this very remarkable history.

The town was a small one, seemingly ancient, and was crowded with people and horses. I proceeded, without delay, to the inn to which my friend the surgeon had directed me. ‘It is of no use coming here,’ said two or three ostlers, as I entered the yard —‘all full — no room whatever;’ whilst one added, in an undertone, ‘That ’ere ain’t a bad-looking horse.’ ‘I want to see the master of this inn,’ said I, as I dismounted from the horse. ‘See the master,’ said an ostler — the same who had paid the negative kind of compliment to the horse —‘a likely thing, truly. My master is drinking wine with some of the grand gentry, and can’t be disturbed for the sake of the like of you.’ ‘I bring a letter to him,’ said I, pulling out the surgeon’s epistle. ‘I wish you would deliver it to him,’ I added, offering a half-crown. ‘Oh, it’s you, is it?’ said the ostler, taking the letter and the half-crown. ‘My master will be right glad to see you. Why you hain’t been here for many a long year. I’ll carry the note to him at once.’ And with these words he hurried into the house. ‘That’s a nice horse, young man,’ said another ostler. ‘What will you take for it?’ to which interrogation I made no answer. ‘If you wish to sell him,’ said the ostler, coming up to me, and winking knowingly, ‘I think I and my partners might offer you a summut under seventy pounds;’ to which kind of half-insinuated offer I made no reply, save by winking in the same kind of knowing manner in which I had observed him wink. ‘Rather leary!’ said a third ostler. ‘Well, young man, perhaps you will drink to-night with me and my partners, when we can talk the matter over.’ Before I had time to answer, the landlord, a well-dressed, good-looking man, made his appearance with the ostler; he bore the letter in his hand. Without glancing at me, he betook himself at once to consider the horse, going round him, and observing every point with the utmost minuteness. At last, after having gone round the horse three times, he stopped beside me, and keeping his eyes on the horse, bent his head towards his right shoulder. ‘That horse is worth some money,’ said he, turning towards me suddenly, and slightly touching me on the arm with the letter which he held in his hand; to which observation I made no reply, save by bending my head towards the right shoulder as I had seen him do. ‘The young man is going to talk to me and my partners about it to-night,’ said the ostler who had expressed an opinion that he and his friends might offer me somewhat under seventy pounds for the animal. ‘Pooh!’ said the landlord, ‘the young man knows what he is about; in the meantime lead the horse to the reserved stall, and see well after him. My friend,’ said he, taking me aside after the ostler had led the animal away, ‘recommends you to me in the strongest manner, on which account alone I take you and your horse in. I need not advise you not to be taken in, as I should say, by your look, that you are tolerably awake; but there are queer hands at Horncastle at this time, and those fellows of mine, you understand me —; but I have a great deal to do at present, so you must excuse me,’ and thereupon went into the house.

That same evening I was engaged at least two hours in the stable, in rubbing the horse down, and preparing him for the exhibition which I intended he should make in the fair on the following day. The ostler, to whom I had given the half-crown, occasionally assisted me, though he was too much occupied by the horses of other guests to devote any length of time to the service of mine; he more than once repeated to me his firm conviction that himself and partners could afford to offer me summut for the horse; and at a later hour when, in compliance with his invitation, I took a glass of summut with himself and partners, in a little room surrounded with corn-chests, on which we sat, both himself and partners endeavoured to impress upon me, chiefly by means of nods and winks, their conviction that they could afford to give me summut for the horse, provided I were disposed to sell him; in return for which intimation, with as many nods and winks as they had all collectively used, I endeavoured to impress upon them my conviction that I could get summut handsomer in the fair than they might be disposed to offer me, seeing as how — which how I followed by a wink and a nod, which they seemed perfectly to understand, one or two of them declaring that if the case was so, it made a great deal of difference, and that they did not wish to be any hindrance to me, more particularly as it was quite clear I had been an ostler like themselves.

It was late at night when I began to think of retiring to rest. On inquiring if there was any place in which I could sleep, I was informed that there was a bed at my service, provided I chose to sleep in a two-bedded room, one of the beds of which was engaged by another gentleman. I expressed my satisfaction at this arrangement, and was conducted by a maid-servant up many pairs of stairs to a garret, in which were two small beds, in one of which she gave me to understand another gentleman slept; he had, however, not yet retired to rest; I asked who he was, but the maid-servant could give me no information about him, save that he was a highly respectable gentleman, and a friend of her master’s. Presently, bidding me good night, she left me with a candle; and I, having undressed myself and extinguished the light, went to bed. Notwithstanding the noises which sounded from every part of the house, I was not slow in falling asleep, being thoroughly tired. I know not how long I might have been in bed, perhaps two hours, when I was partially awakened by a light shining upon my face, whereupon, unclosing my eyes, I perceived the figure of a man, with a candle in one hand, staring at my face, whilst with the other hand he held back the curtain of the bed. As I have said before, I was only partially awakened, my power of perception was consequently very confused; it appeared to me, however, that the man was dressed in a green coat; that he had curly brown or black hair, and that there was something peculiar in his look. Just as I was beginning to recollect myself, the curtain dropped, and I heard, or thought I heard, a voice say, ‘Don’t know the cove.’ Then there was a rustling like a person undressing, whereupon being satisfied that it was my fellow lodger, I dropped asleep, but was awakened again by a kind of heavy plunge upon the other bed, which caused it to rock and creak, when I observed that the light had been extinguished, probably blown out, if I might judge from a rather disagreeable smell of burnt wick which remained in the room, and which kept me awake till I heard my companion breathing hard, when, turning on the other side, I was again once more speedily in the arms of slumber.

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