The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 40

The Horncastle Welcome — Tzernebock and Bielebock

The pipe of the Hungarian had, for some time past, exhibited considerable symptoms of exhaustion, little or no ruttling having been heard in the tube, and scarcely a particle of smoke, drawn through the syphon, having been emitted from the lips of the tall possessor. He now rose from his seat, and going to a corner of the room, placed his pipe against the wall, then striding up and down the room, he cracked his fingers several times, exclaiming, in a half-musing manner, ‘Oh, the deep nation, which, in order to display its sympathy for Hungary, sends its fool to Vienna, to drink the sweet wine of Tokay!’

The jockey, having looked for some time at the tall figure with evident approbation, winked at me with that brilliant eye of his on which there was no speck, saying, ‘Did you ever see a taller fellow?’

‘Never,’ said I.

‘Or a finer?’

‘That’s another question,’ said I, ‘which I am not so willing to answer; however, as I am fond of truth, and scorn to flatter, I will take the liberty of saying that I think I have seen a finer.’

‘A finer! where?’ said the jockey; whilst the Hungarian, who appeared to understand what we said, stood still, and looked full at me.

‘Amongst a strange set of people,’ said I, ‘whom, if I were to name, you would, I dare say, only laugh at me.’

‘Who be they?’ said the jockey. ‘Come, don’t be ashamed. I have occasionally kept queerish company myself.’

‘The people whom we call gypsies,’ said I; ‘whom the Germans call Zigeuner, and who call themselves Romany chals.’

‘Zigeuner!’ said the Hungarian. ‘By Isten! I do know these people.’

‘Romany chals!’ said the jockey; ‘whew! I begin to smell a rat.’

‘What do you mean by smelling a rat?’ said I.

‘I’ll bet a crown,’ said the jockey, ‘that you be the young chap what certain folks call “The Romany Rye.”’

‘Ah!’ said I, ‘how came you to know that name?’

‘Be not you he?’ said the jockey.

‘Why, I certainly have been called by that name.’

‘I could have sworn it,’ said the jockey; then rising from his chair, he laid his pipe on the table, took a large hand-bell which stood on a sideboard, and going to the door, opened it, and commenced ringing in a most tremendous manner on the staircase. The noise presently brought up a waiter, to whom the jockey vociferated, ‘Go to your master, and tell him to send immediately three bottles of champagne, of the pink kind, mind you, which is twelve guineas a dozen.’ The waiter hurried away, and the jockey resumed his seat and his pipe. I sat in silent astonishment till the waiter returned with a basket containing the wine, which, with three long glasses, he placed on the table. The jockey then got up, and going to a large bow-window at the end of the room, which looked into a court-yard, peeped out; then saying, ‘The coast is clear,’ he shut down the principal sash, which was open for the sake of the air, and taking up a bottle of the champagne, he placed another in the hands of the Hungarian, to whom he said something in private. The latter, who seemed to understand him, answered by a nod. The two then going to the end of the table fronting the window, and about eight paces from it, stood before it, holding the bottles by their necks; suddenly the jockey lifted up his arm. ‘Surely,’ said I, ‘you are not mad enough to fling that bottle through the window?’ ‘Here’s to the Romany Rye: here’s to the sweet master,’ said the jockey, dashing the bottle through a pane in so neat a manner that scarcely a particle of glass fell into the room.

‘Eljen edes csigany ur — eljen gul eray!’ said the Hungarian, swinging round his bottle, and discharging it at the window; but, either not possessing the jockey’s accuracy of aim, or reckless of consequences, he flung his bottle so that it struck against part of the wooden setting of the panes, breaking along with the wood and itself three or four panes to pieces. The crash was horrid, and wine and particles of glass flew back into the room, to the no small danger of its inmates. ‘What do you think of that?’ said the jockey. ‘Were you ever so honoured before?’ ‘Honoured!’ said I. ‘God preserve me in future from such honour;’ and I put my finger to my cheek, which was slightly hurt by a particle of the glass. ‘That’s the way we of the cofrady honour great men at Horncastle,’ said the jockey. ‘What, you are hurt! never mind; all the better, your scratch shows that you are the body the compliment was paid to.’ ‘And what are you going to do with the other bottle?’ said I. ‘Do with it!’ said the jockey, ‘why, drink it, cosily and comfortably, whilst holding a little quiet talk. The Romany Rye at Horncastle, what an idea!’

‘And what will the master of the house say to all this damage which you have caused him?’

‘What will your master say, William?’ said the jockey to the waiter, who had witnessed the singular scene just described without exhibiting the slightest mark of surprise. William smiled, and slightly shrugging his shoulders, replied, ‘Very little, I dare say, sir; this ain’t the first time your honour has done a thing of this kind.’ ‘Nor will it be the first time that I shall have paid for it,’ said the jockey. ‘Well, I shall have never paid for a certain item in the bill with more pleasure than I shall pay for it now. Come, William, draw the cork, and let us taste the pink champagne.’

The waiter drew the cork, and filled the glasses with a pinky liquor, which bubbled, hissed, and foamed. ‘How do you like it?’ said the jockey, after I had imitated the example of my companions by despatching my portion at a draught.

‘It is wonderful wine,’ said I; ‘I have never tasted champagne before, though I have frequently heard it praised; it more than answers my expectations; but, I confess, I should not wish to be obliged to drink it every day.’

‘Nor I,’ said the jockey, ‘for everyday drinking give me a glass of old port, or —’

‘Of hard old ale,’ I interposed, ‘which, according to my mind, is better than all the wine in the world.’

‘Well said, Romany Rye,’ said the jockey. ‘Just my own opinion; now, William, make yourself scarce.’

The waiter withdrew, and I said to the jockey, ‘How did you become acquainted with the Romany chals?’

‘I first became acquainted with them,’ said the jockey, ‘when I lived with old Fulcher the basket-maker, who took me up when I was adrift upon the world; I do not mean the present Fulcher, who is likewise called old Fulcher, but his father, who has been dead this many a year; while living with him in the caravan, I frequently met them in the green lanes, and of latter years I have had occasional dealings with them in the horse line.’

‘And the gypsies have mentioned me to you?’ said I.

‘Frequently,’ said the jockey, ‘and not only those of these parts; why, there’s scarcely a part of England in which I have not heard the name of the Romany Rye mentioned by these people. The power you have over them is wonderful; that is, I should have thought it wonderful, had they not more than once told me the cause.’

‘And what is the cause?’ said I, ‘for I am sure I do not know.’

‘The cause is this,’ said the jockey: ‘they never heard a bad word proceed from your mouth, and never knew you do a bad thing.’

‘They are a singular people,’ said I.

‘And what a singular language they have got,’ said the jockey.

‘Do you know it?’ said I.

‘Only a few words,’ said the jockey, ‘they were always chary in teaching me any.’

‘They were vary sherry to me too,’ said the Hungarian, speaking in broken English; ‘I only could learn from them half a dozen words, for example, gul eray, 164 which, in the czigany of my country, means sweet gentleman; or edes ur in my own Magyar.’

‘Gudlo Rye, in the Romany of mine, means a sugar’d gentleman,’ said I; ‘then there are gypsies in your country?’

‘Plenty,’ said the Hungarian, speaking German, ‘and in Russia and Turkey too; and wherever they are found, they are alike in their ways and language. Oh, they are a strange race, and how little known! I know little of them, but enough to say, that one horse-load of nonsense has been written about them; there is one Valter Scott —’

‘Mind what you say about him,’ said I; ‘he is our grand authority in matters of philology and history.’

‘A pretty philologist,’ said the Hungarian, ‘who makes the gypsies speak Roth–Welsch, 165 the dialect of thieves; a pretty historian, who couples together Thor and Tzernebock.’

‘Where does he do that?’ said I.

‘In his conceited romance of Ivanhoe he couples Thor and Tzernebock together, and calls them gods of the heathen Saxons.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘Thur or Thor was certainly a god of the heathen Saxons.’

‘True,’ said the Hungarian; ‘but why couple him with Tzernebock? Tzernebock was a word which your Valter had picked up somewhere without knowing the meaning. Tzernebock was no god of the Saxons, but one of the gods of the Sclaves, on the southern side of the Baltic. The Sclaves had two grand gods to whom they sacrificed, Tzernebock and Bielebock; that is, the black and white gods, who represented the powers of dark and light. They were overturned by Waldemar, the Dane, the great enemy of the Sclaves; the account of whose wars you will find in one fine old book, written by Saxo Gramaticus, which I read in the library of the college of Debreczen. The Sclaves, at one time, were masters of all the southern shore of the Baltic, where their descendants are still to be found, though they have lost their language, and call themselves Germans; but the word Zernevitz near Dantzic, still attests that the Sclavic language was once common in those parts. Zernevitz means the thing of blackness, as Tzernebock means the god of blackness. Prussia itself merely means, in Sclavish, Lower Russia. There is scarcely a race or language in the world more extended than the Sclavic. On the other side of the Dunau you will find the Sclaves and their language. Czernavoda is Sclavic, and means black water; in Turkish, kara su; even as Tzernebock means black god; and Belgrade, or Belograd, means the white town; even as Bielebock, or Bielebog, means the white god. Oh! he is one great ignorant, that Valter. He is going, they say, to write one history about Napoleon. I do hope that in his history he will couple his Thor and Tzernebock together. By my God! it would be good diversion that.’

‘Walter Scott appears to be no particular favourite of yours,’ said I.

‘He is not,’ said the Hungarian; ‘I hate him for his slavish principles. He wishes to see absolute power restored in this country, and Popery also; and I hate him because — what do you think? In one of his novels, published a few months ago, he has the insolence to insult Hungary in the person of one of her sons. He makes his great braggart, Cour de Lion, fling a Magyar over his head. Ha! it was well for Richard that he never felt the grip of a Hungarian. I wish the braggart could have felt the grip of me, who am “a’ Magyarok kozt legkissebb,” the least among the Magyars. I do hate that Scott, and all his vile gang of Lowlanders and Highlanders. The black corps, the fekete regiment of Matyjas Hunyadi, was worth all the Scots, high or low, that ever pretended to be soldiers; and would have sent them all headlong into the Black Sea, had they dared to confront it on its shores; but why be angry with an ignorant, who couples together Thor and Tzernebock? Ha! ha!’

‘You have read his novels?’ said I.

‘Yes, I read them now and then. I do not speak much English, but I can read it well, and I have read some of his romances, and mean to read his Napoleon, in the hope of finding Thor and Tzernebock coupled together in it, as in his high-flying Ivanhoe.’

‘Come,’ said the jockey, ‘no more Dutch, whether high or low. I am tired of it; unless we can have some English, I am off to bed.’

‘I should be very glad to hear some English,’ said I; ‘especially from your mouth. Several things which you have mentioned have awakened my curiosity. Suppose you give us your history?’

‘My history?’ said the jockey. ‘A rum idea! however, lest conversation should lag, I’ll give it you. First of all, however, a glass of champagne to each.’

After we had each taken a glass of champagne, the jockey commenced his history.

164 In Hungarian gypsy, properly gulo rai, ‘sweet sir.’

165 German cant.

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