The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 9

Return From Church — The Cuckoo and Gypsy — Spiritual Discourse

The service over, my companions and myself returned towards the encampment by the way we came. Some of the humble part of the congregation laughed and joked at us as we passed. Mr. Petulengro and his wife, however, returned their laughs and jokes with interest. As for Tawno and myself, we said nothing; Tawno, like most handsome fellows, having very little to say for himself at any time; and myself, though not handsome, not being particularly skilful at repartee. Some boys followed us for a considerable time, making all kinds of observations about gypsies, but as we walked at a great pace, we gradually left them behind, and at last lost sight of them. Mrs. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno walked together, even as they had come, whilst Mr. Petulengro and myself followed at a little distance.

‘That was a very fine preacher we heard,’ said I to Mr. Petulengro, after we had crossed the stile into the fields.

‘Very fine, indeed, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘he is talked of, far and wide, for his sermons; folks say that there is scarcely another like him in the whole of England.’

‘He looks rather melancholy, Jasper.’

‘He lost his wife several years ago, who, they say, was one of the most beautiful women ever seen. They say that it was grief for her loss that made him come out mighty strong as a preacher; for, though he was a clergyman, he was never heard of in the pulpit before he lost his wife; since then the whole country has rung with the preaching of the clergyman of M—— 94 as they call him. Those two nice young gentlewomen whom you saw with the female childer are his daughters.’

‘You seem to know all about him, Jasper. Did you ever hear him preach before?’

‘Never, brother; but he has frequently been to our tent, and his daughters, too, and given us tracts; for he is one of the people they call Evangelicals, who give folks tracts which they cannot read.’

‘You should learn to read, Jasper.’

‘We have no time, brother.’

‘Are you not frequently idle?’

‘Never, brother; when we are not engaged in our traffic we are engaged in taking our relaxation, so we have no time to learn.’

‘You really should make an effort. If you were disposed to learn to read, I would endeavour to assist you. You would be all the better for knowing how to read.’

‘In what way, brother?’

‘Why, you could read the Scriptures, and by so doing learn your duty towards your fellow-creatures.’

‘We know that already, brother; the constables and justices have contrived to knock that tolerably into our heads.’

‘Yet you frequently break the laws.’

‘So, I believe, do now and then those who know how to read, brother.’

‘Very true, Jasper; but you really ought to learn to read, as by so doing you might learn your duty towards yourselves, and your chief duty is to take care of your own souls; did not the preacher say: “In what is a man profited, provided he gain the whole world?”’

‘We have not much of the world, brother.’

‘Very little indeed, Jasper. Did you not observe how the eyes of the whole congregation were turned towards our pew when the preacher said, “There are some people who lose their souls, and get nothing in exchange; who are outcast, despised, and miserable.” Now, was not what he said quite applicable to the gypsies?’

‘We are not miserable, brother.’

‘Well, then, you ought to be, Jasper. Have you an inch of ground of your own. Are you of the least use? Are you not spoken ill of by everybody? What’s a gypsy?’

‘What’s the bird noising yonder, brother?’

‘The bird! Oh, that’s the cuckoo tolling; but what has the cuckoo to do with the matter?’

‘We’ll see, brother; what’s the cuckoo?’

‘What is it? you know as much about it as myself, Jasper.’

‘Isn’t it a kind of roguish, chaffing bird, brother?’

‘I believe it is, Jasper.’

‘Nobody knows whence it comes, brother?’

‘I believe not, Jasper.’

‘Very poor, brother, not a nest of its own?’

‘So they say, Jasper.’

‘With every person’s bad word, brother?’

‘Yes, Jasper, every person is mocking it.’

‘Tolerably merry, brother?’

‘Yes, tolerably merry, Jasper.’

‘Of no use at all, brother?’

‘None whatever, Jasper.’

‘You would be glad to get rid of the cuckoos, brother?’

‘Why, not exactly, Jasper; the cuckoo is a pleasant, funny bird, and its presence and voice give a great charm to the green trees and fields; no, I can’t say I wish exactly to get rid of the cuckoo.’

‘Well, brother, what’s a Romany chal?’

‘You must answer that question yourself, Jasper.’

‘A roguish, chaffing fellow, a’n’t he, brother?’

‘Ay, ay, Jasper.’

‘Of no use at all, brother?’

‘Just so, Jasper; I see —’

‘Something very much like a cuckoo, brother?’

‘I see what you are after, Jasper.’

‘You would like to get rid of us, wouldn’t you?’

‘Why, no, not exactly.’

‘We are no ornament to the green lanes in spring and summer time, are we, brother? and the voices of our chies with their cukkerin 95 and dukkerin 96 don’t help to make them pleasant?’

‘I see what you are at, Jasper.’

‘You would wish to turn the cuckoos into barn-door fowls, wouldn’t you?’

‘Can’t say I should, Jasper, whatever some people might wish.’

‘And the chals and chies into radical weavers and factory wenches, hey, brother?’

‘Can’t say that I should, Jasper. You are certainly a picturesque people, and in many respects an ornament both to town and country; painting and lil writing 97 too, are under great obligations to you. What pretty pictures are made out of your campings and groupings, and what pretty books have been written in which gypsies, or at least creatures intended to represent gypsies, have been the principal figures. I think if we were without you, we should begin to miss you.’

‘Just as you would the cuckoos, if they were all converted into barn-door fowls. I tell you what, brother, frequently as I have sat under a hedge in spring or summer time and heard the cuckoo, I have thought that we chals and cuckoos are alike in many respects, but especially in character. Everybody speaks ill of us both, and everybody is glad to see both of us again.’

‘Yes, Jasper, but there is some difference between men and cuckoos; men have souls, Jasper.’

‘And why not cuckoos, brother?’

‘You should not talk so, Jasper; what you say is little short of blasphemy. How should a bird have a soul?’

‘And how should a man?’

‘Oh, we know very well that a man has a soul.’

‘How do you know it?’

‘We know very well.’

‘Would you take your oath of it, brother — your bodily oath?’

‘Why, I think I might, Jasper!’

‘Did you ever see the soul, brother?’

‘No, I never saw it.’

‘Then how could you swear to it? A pretty figure you would make in a court of justice, to swear to a thing which you never saw. Hold up your head, fellow. When and where did you see it? Now upon your oath, fellow, do you mean to say that this Roman stole the donkey’s foal? Oh, there’s no one for cross-questioning like Counsellor P——. Our people when they are in a hobble always like to employ him, though he is somewhat dear. Now, brother, how can you get over the “upon your oath, fellow, will you say that you have a soul?”’

‘Well, we will take no oaths on the subject; but you yourself believe in the soul. I have heard you say that you believe in dukkerin; now what is dukkerin but the soul science?’

‘When did I say that I believed in it?’

‘Why, after that fight, when you pointed to the bloody mark in the cloud, whilst he you wot of was galloping in the barouch to the old town, amidst the rain-cataracts, the thunder, and flame of heaven.’

‘I have some kind of remembrance of it, brother.’

‘Then, again, I heard you say that the dook 98 of Abershaw rode every night on horseback down the wooded hill.’

‘I say, brother, what a wonderful memory you have!’

‘I wish I had not, Jasper, but I can’t help it, it is my misfortune.’

‘Misfortune! well, perhaps it is; at any rate it is very ungenteel to have such a memory. I have heard my wife say that to show you have a long memory looks very vulgar, and that you can’t give a greater proof of gentility than by forgetting a thing as soon as possible — more especially a promise, or an acquaintance when he happens to be shabby. Well, brother, I don’t deny that I may have said that I believe in dukkerin, and in Abershaw’s dook, which you say is his soul; but what I believe one moment, or say I believe, don’t be certain that I shall believe the next, or say I do.’

‘Indeed, Jasper, I heard you say on a previous occasion on quoting a piece of a song, 99 that when a man dies he is cast into the earth and there’s an end of him.’

‘I did, did I? Lor’ what a memory you have, brother. But you are not sure that I hold that opinion now.’

‘Certainly not, Jasper. Indeed, after such a sermon as we have been hearing, I should be very shocked if you held such an opinion.’

‘However, brother, don’t be sure I do not, however shocking such an opinion may be to you.’

‘What an incomprehensible people you are, Jasper.’

‘We are rather so, brother; indeed, we have posed wiser heads than yours before now.’

‘You seem to care for so little, and yet you rove about a distinct race.’

‘I say, brother!’

‘Yes, Jasper.’

‘What do you think of our women?’

‘They have certainly very singular names, Jasper.’

‘Names! Lavengro! However, brother, if you had been as fond of things as of names, you would never have been a pal of ours.’

‘What do you mean, Jasper?’

‘A’n’t they rum animals?’

‘They have tongues of their own, Jasper.’

‘Did you ever feel their teeth and nails, brother?’

‘Never, Jasper, save Mrs. Herne’s. I have always been very civil to them, so —’

‘They let you alone. I say, brother, some part of the secret is in them.’

‘They seem rather flighty, Jasper.’

‘Ay, ay, brother!’

‘Rather fond of loose discourse!’

‘Rather so, brother.’

‘Can you always trust them, Jasper?’

‘We never watch them, brother.’

‘Can they always trust you?’

‘Not quite so well as we can them. However, we get on very well together, except Mikailia and her husband; but Mikailia is a cripple, and is married to the beauty of the world, so she may be expected to be jealous — though he would not part with her for a duchess, no more than I would part with my rawnie, 100 nor any other chal with his.’

‘Ay, but would not the chi part with the chal for a duke, Jasper?’

‘My Pakomovna gave up the duke for me, brother.’

‘But she occasionally talks of him, Jasper.’

‘Yes, brother, but Pakomovna was born on a common not far from the sign of the gammon.’

‘Gammon of bacon, I suppose.’

‘Yes, brother; but gammon likewise means —’

‘I know it does, Jasper; it means fun, ridicule, jest; it is an ancient Norse word, and is found in the Edda.’

‘Lor’, brother! how learned in lils you are!’

‘Many words of Norse are to be found in our vulgar sayings, Jasper; for example — in that particularly vulgar saying of ours, “Your mother is up,” 101 there’s a noble Norse word; mother, there, meaning not the female who bore us, but rage and choler, as I discovered by reading the Sagas, Jasper.’

‘Lor’, brother! how book-learned you be.’

‘Indifferently so, Jasper. Then you think you might trust your wife with the duke?’

‘I think I could, brother, or even with yourself.’

‘Myself, Jasper! Oh, I never troubled my head about your wife; but I suppose there have been love affairs between gorgios and Romany chies. 102 Why novels are stuffed with such matters; and then even one of your own songs says so — the song which Ursula was singing the other afternoon.’

‘That is somewhat of an old song, brother, and is sung by the chies as a warning at our solemn festivals.’

‘Well! but there’s your sister-inlaw, Ursula, herself, Jasper.’

‘Ursula, herself, brother?’

‘You were talking of my having her, Jasper.’

‘Well, brother, why didn’t you have her?’

‘Would she have had me?’

‘Of course, brother. You are so much of a Roman, and speak Romany so remarkably well.’

‘Poor thing! she looks very innocent!’

‘Remarkably so, brother! however, though not born on the same common with my wife, she knows a thing or two of Roman matters.’

‘I should like to ask her a question or two, Jasper, in connection with that song.’

‘You can do no better, brother. Here we are at the camp. After tea, take Ursula under a hedge, and ask her a question or two in connection with that song.’

94 See Introduction.

95 ‘Cuckooing,’ a made-up word.

96 Fortune-telling.

97 Authorship.

98 Ghost (Borrovian Gy.).

99 See ‘Lavengro,’ i. 139.

100 Lady.

101 Cf. ‘King Lear,’ II. iv. 56:

‘O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!

Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,

Thy elements below!’

102 Gypsy girls.

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