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Lavengro - The Scholar, The Gypsy, The Priest
by George Borrow
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'I was now disgusted with the hawks, and no wonder, seeing all the disquietude they had caused me; I soon totally neglected the poor birds, and they would have starved had not some of the servants taken compassion upon them and fed them. My uncle, soon hearing of my neglect, was angry, and took the birds away; he was a very good-natured man, however, and soon sent me a fine pony; at first I was charmed with the pony, soon, however, the same kind of thoughts arose which had disgusted me on a former occasion. How did my uncle become possessed of the pony? This question I asked him the first time I saw him. Oh, he had bought it of a gypsy, that I might learn to ride upon it. A gypsy; I had heard that gypsies were great thieves, and I instantly began to fear that the gypsy had stolen the pony, and it is probable that for this apprehension I had better grounds than for many others. I instantly ceased to set any value upon the pony, but for that reason, perhaps, I turned it to some account; I mounted it and rode it about, which I don't think I should have done had I looked upon it as a secure possession. Had I looked upon my title as secure, I should have prized it so much, that I should scarcely have mounted it for fear of injuring the animal; but now, caring not a straw for it, I rode it most unmercifully, and soon became a capital rider. This was very selfish in me, and I tell the fact with shame. I was punished, however, as I deserved; the pony had a spirit of its own, and, moreover, it had belonged to gypsies; once, as I was riding it furiously over the lawn, applying both whip and spur, it suddenly lifted up its heels, and flung me at least five yards over its head. I received some desperate contusions, and was taken up for dead; it was many months before I perfectly recovered.

'But it is time for me to come to the touching part of my story. There was one thing that I loved better than the choicest gift which could be bestowed upon me, better than life itself—my mother;—at length she became unwell, and the thought that I might possibly lose her now rushed into my mind for the first time; it was terrible, and caused me unspeakable misery, I may say horror. My mother became worse, and I was not allowed to enter her apartment, lest by my frantic exclamations of grief I might aggravate her disorder. I rested neither day nor night, but roamed about the house like one distracted. Suddenly I found myself doing that which even at the time struck me as being highly singular; I found myself touching particular objects that were near me, and to which my fingers seemed to be attracted by an irresistible impulse. It was now the table or the chair that I was compelled to touch; now the bell-rope; now the handle of the door; now I would touch the wall, and the next moment, stooping down, I would place the point of my finger upon the floor: and so I continued to do day after day; frequently I would struggle to resist the impulse, but invariably in vain. I have even rushed away from the object, but I was sure to return, the impulse was too strong to be resisted: I quickly hurried back, compelled by the feeling within me to touch the object. Now I need not tell you that what impelled me to these actions was the desire to prevent my mother's death; whenever I touched any particular object, it was with the view of baffling the evil chance, as you would call it—in this instance my mother's death.

'A favourable crisis occurred in my mother's complaint, and she recovered; this crisis took place about six o'clock in the morning; almost simultaneously with it there happened to myself a rather remarkable circumstance connected with the nervous feeling which was rioting in my system. I was lying in bed in a kind of uneasy doze, the only kind of rest which my anxiety on account of my mother permitted me at this time to take, when all at once I sprang up as if electrified; the mysterious impulse was upon me, and it urged me to go without delay, and climb a stately elm behind the house, and touch the topmost branch; otherwise—you know the rest—the evil chance would prevail. Accustomed for some time as I had been, under this impulse, to perform extravagant actions, I confess to you that the difficulty and peril of such a feat startled me; I reasoned against the feeling, and strove more strenuously than I had ever done before; I even made a solemn vow not to give way to the temptation, but I believe nothing less than chains, and those strong ones, could have restrained me. The demoniac influence, for I can call it nothing else, at length prevailed; it compelled me to rise, to dress myself, to descend the stairs, to unbolt the door, and to go forth; it drove me to the foot of the tree, and it compelled me to climb the trunk; this was a tremendous task, and I only accomplished it after repeated falls and trials. When I had got amongst the branches, I rested for a time, and then set about accomplishing the remainder of the ascent; this for some time was not so difficult, for I was now amongst the branches; as I approached the top, however, the difficulty became greater, and likewise the danger; but I was a light boy, and almost as nimble as a squirrel, and, moreover, the nervous feeling was within me, impelling me upward. It was only by means of a spring, however, that I was enabled to touch the top of the tree; I sprang, touched the top of the tree, and fell a distance of at least twenty feet, amongst the branches; had I fallen to the bottom I must have been killed, but I fell into the middle of the tree, and presently found myself astride upon one of the boughs; scratched and bruised all over, I reached the ground, and regained my chamber unobserved; I flung myself on my bed quite exhausted; presently they came to tell me that my mother was better—they found me in the state which I have described, and in a fever besides. The favourable crisis must have occurred just about the time that I performed the magic touch; it certainly was a curious coincidence, yet I was not weak enough, even though a child, to suppose that I had baffled the evil chance by my daring feat.

'Indeed, all the time that I was performing these strange feats, I knew them to be highly absurd, yet the impulse to perform them was irresistible—a mysterious dread hanging over me till I had given way to it; even at that early period I frequently used to reason within myself as to what could be the cause of my propensity to touch, but of course I could come to no satisfactory conclusion respecting it; being heartily ashamed of the practice, I never spoke of it to any one, and was at all times highly solicitous that no one should observe my weakness.'



CHAPTER LXV

Maternal anxiety—The baronet—Little zest—Country life—Mr. Speaker!—The craving—Spirited address—An author.

After a short pause my host resumed his narration. 'Though I was never sent to school, my education was not neglected on that account; I had tutors in various branches of knowledge, under whom I made a tolerable progress; by the time I was eighteen I was able to read most of the Greek and Latin authors with facility; I was likewise, to a certain degree, a mathematician. I cannot say that I took much pleasure in my studies; my chief aim in endeavouring to accomplish my tasks was to give pleasure to my beloved parent, who watched my progress with anxiety truly maternal. My life at this period may be summed up in a few words: I pursued my studies, roamed about the woods, walked the green lanes occasionally, cast my fly in a trout stream, and sometimes, but not often, rode a-hunting with my uncle. A considerable part of my time was devoted to my mother, conversing with her and reading to her; youthful companions I had none, and as to my mother, she lived in the greatest retirement, devoting herself to the superintendence of my education, and the practice of acts of charity; nothing could be more innocent than this mode of life, and some people say that in innocence there is happiness, yet I can't say that I was happy. A continual dread overshadowed my mind, it was the dread of my mother's death. Her constitution had never been strong, and it had been considerably shaken by her last illness; this I knew, and this I saw—for the eyes of fear are marvellously keen. Well, things went on in this way till I had come of age; my tutors were then dismissed, and my uncle the baronet took me in hand, telling my mother that it was high time for him to exert his authority; that I must see something of the world, for that, if I remained much longer with her, I should be ruined. "You must consign him to me," said he, "and I will introduce him to the world." My mother sighed and consented; so my uncle the baronet introduced me to the world, took me to horse-races and to London, and endeavoured to make a man of me according to his idea of the term, and in part succeeded. I became moderately dissipated—I say moderately, for dissipation had but little zest for me.

'In this manner four years passed over. It happened that I was in London in the height of the season with my uncle, at his house; one morning he summoned me into the parlour, he was standing before the fire, and looked very serious. "I have had a letter," said he; "your mother is very ill." I staggered, and touched the nearest object to me; nothing was said for two or three minutes, and then my uncle put his lips to my ear and whispered something. I fell down senseless. My mother was . . . I remember nothing for a long time—for two years I was out of my mind; at the end of this time I recovered, or partly so. My uncle the baronet was very kind to me; he advised me to travel, he offered to go with me. I told him he was very kind, but I would rather go by myself. So I went abroad, and saw, amongst other things, Rome and the Pyramids. By frequent change of scene my mind became not happy, but tolerably tranquil. I continued abroad some years, when, becoming tired of travelling, I came home, found my uncle the baronet alive, hearty, and unmarried, as he still is. He received me very kindly, took me to Newmarket, and said that he hoped by this time I was become quite a man of the world; by his advice I took a house in town, in which I lived during the season. In summer I strolled from one watering-place to another; and, in order to pass the time, I became very dissipated.

'At last I became as tired of dissipation as I had previously been of travelling, and I determined to retire to the country, and live on my paternal estate; this resolution I was not slow in putting into effect; I sold my house in town, repaired and refurnished my country house, and, for at least ten years, lived a regular country life; I gave dinner parties, prosecuted poachers, was charitable to the poor, and now and then went into my library; during this time I was seldom or never visited by the magic impulse, the reason being that there was nothing in the wide world for which I cared sufficiently to move a finger to preserve it. When the ten years, however, were nearly ended, I started out of bed one morning in a fit of horror, exclaiming, "Mercy, mercy! what will become of me? I am afraid I shall go mad. I have lived thirty-five years and upwards without doing anything; shall I pass through life in this manner? Horror!" And then in rapid succession I touched three different objects.

'I dressed myself and went down, determining to set about something; but what was I to do?—there was the difficulty. I ate no breakfast, but walked about the room in a state of distraction; at last I thought that the easiest way to do something was to get into Parliament, there would be no difficulty in that. I had plenty of money, and could buy a seat; but what was I to do in Parliament? Speak, of course—but could I speak? "I'll try at once," said I, and forthwith I rushed into the largest dining-room, and, locking the door, I commenced speaking: "Mr. Speaker," said I, and then I went on speaking for about ten minutes as I best could, and then I left off, for I was talking nonsense. No, I was not formed for Parliament; I could do nothing there. What—what was I to do?

'Many, many times I thought this question over, but was unable to solve it; a fear now stole over me that I was unfit for anything in the world, save the lazy life of vegetation which I had for many years been leading; yet, if that were the case, thought I, why the craving within me to distinguish myself? Surely it does not occur fortuitously, but is intended to rouse and call into exercise certain latent powers that I possess? and then with infinite eagerness I set about attempting to discover these latent powers. I tried an infinity of pursuits, botany and geology amongst the rest, but in vain; I was fitted for none of them. I became very sorrowful and despondent, and at one time I had almost resolved to plunge again into the whirlpool of dissipation; it was a dreadful resource, it was true, but what better could I do?

'But I was not doomed to return to the dissipation of the world. One morning a young nobleman, who had for some time past showed a wish to cultivate my acquaintance, came to me in a considerable hurry. "I am come to beg an important favour of you," said he; "one of the county memberships is vacant—I intend to become a candidate; what I want immediately is a spirited address to the electors. I have been endeavouring to frame one all the morning, but in vain; I have, therefore, recourse to you as a person of infinite genius; pray, my dear friend, concoct me one by the morning!" "What you require of me," I replied, "is impossible; I have not the gift of words; did I possess it I would stand for the county myself, but I can't speak. Only the other day I attempted to make a speech, but left off suddenly, utterly ashamed, although I was quite alone, of the nonsense I was uttering." "It is not a speech that I want," said my friend; "I can talk for three hours without hesitating, but I want an address to circulate through the county, and I find myself utterly incompetent to put one together; do oblige me by writing one for me, I know you can; and, if at any time you want a person to speak for you, you may command me not for three but for six hours. Good-morning; to-morrow I will breakfast with you." In the morning he came again. "Well," said he, "what success?" "Very poor," said I; "but judge for yourself"; and I put into his hand a manuscript of several pages. My friend read it through with considerable attention. "I congratulate you," said he, "and likewise myself; I was not mistaken in my opinion of you; the address is too long by at least two-thirds, or I should rather say, that it is longer by two-thirds than addresses generally are; but it will do—I will not curtail it of a word. I shall win my election." And in truth he did win his election; and it was not only his own but the general opinion that he owed it to the address.

'But, however that might be, I had, by writing the address, at last discovered what had so long eluded my search—what I was able to do. I, who had neither the nerve nor the command of speech necessary to constitute the orator—who had not the power of patient research required by those who would investigate the secrets of nature, had, nevertheless, a ready pen and teeming imagination. This discovery decided my fate—from that moment I became an author.'



CHAPTER LXVI

Trepidations—Subtle principle—Perverse imagination—Are they mine?—Another book—How hard!—Agricultural dinner—Incomprehensible actions—Inmost bosom—Give it up—Chance resemblance—Rascally newspaper.

'An author,' said I, addressing my host; 'is it possible that I am under the roof of an author?'

'Yes,' said my host, sighing, 'my name is so and so, and I am the author of so and so; it is more than probable that you have heard both of my name and works. I will not detain you much longer with my history; the night is advancing, and the storm appears to be upon the increase. My life since the period of my becoming an author may be summed briefly as an almost uninterrupted series of doubts, anxieties, and trepidations. I see clearly that it is not good to love anything immoderately in this world, but it has been my misfortune to love immoderately everything on which I have set my heart. This is not good, I repeat—but where is the remedy? The ancients were always in the habit of saying, "Practise moderation," but the ancients appear to have considered only one portion of the subject. It is very possible to practise moderation in some things, in drink and the like—to restrain the appetites—but can a man restrain the affections of his mind, and tell them, so far you shall go, and no farther? Alas, no! for the mind is a subtle principle, and cannot be confined. The winds may be imprisoned; Homer says that Odysseus carried certain winds in his ship, confined in leathern bags, but Homer never speaks of confining the affections. It were but right that those who exhort us against inordinate affections, and setting our hearts too much upon the world and its vanities, would tell us how to avoid doing so.

'I need scarcely tell you that no sooner did I become an author than I gave myself up immoderately to my vocation. It became my idol, and, as a necessary consequence, it has proved a source of misery and disquietude to me, instead of pleasure and blessing. I had trouble enough in writing my first work, and I was not long in discovering that it was one thing to write a stirring and spirited address to a set of county electors, and another widely different to produce a work at all calculated to make an impression upon the great world. I felt, however, that I was in my proper sphere, and by dint of unwearied diligence and exertion I succeeded in evolving from the depths of my agitated breast a work which, though it did not exactly please me, I thought would serve to make an experiment upon the public; so I laid it before the public, and the reception which it met with was far beyond my wildest expectations. The public were delighted with it, but what were my feelings? Anything, alas! but those of delight. No sooner did the public express its satisfaction at the result of my endeavours, than my perverse imagination began to conceive a thousand chimerical doubts; forthwith I sat down to analyse it; and my worst enemy, and all people have their enemies, especially authors—my worst enemy could not have discovered or sought to discover a tenth part of the faults which I, the author and creator of the unfortunate production, found or sought to find in it. It has been said that love makes us blind to the faults of the loved object—common love does, perhaps—the love of a father to his child, or that of a lover to his mistress, but not the inordinate love of an author to his works, at least not the love which one like myself bears to his works: to be brief, I discovered a thousand faults in my work, which neither public nor critics discovered. However, I was beginning to get over this misery, and to forgive my work all its imperfections, when—and I shake when I mention it—the same kind of idea which perplexed me with regard to the hawks and the gypsy pony rushed into my mind, and I forthwith commenced touching the objects around me, in order to baffle the evil chance, as you call it; it was neither more nor less than a doubt of the legality of my claim to the thoughts, expressions, and situations contained in the book; that is, to all that constituted the book. How did I get them? How did they come into my mind? Did I invent them? Did they originate with myself? Are they my own, or are they some other body's? You see into what difficulty I had got; I won't trouble you by relating all that I endured at that time, but will merely say that after eating my own heart, as the Italians say, and touching every object that came in my way for six months, I at length flung my book, I mean the copy of it which I possessed, into the fire, and began another.

'But it was all in vain; I laboured at this other, finished it, and gave it to the world; and no sooner had I done so, than the same thought was busy in my brain, poisoning all the pleasure which I should otherwise have derived from my work. How did I get all the matter which composed it? Out of my own mind, unquestionably; but how did it come there—was it the indigenous growth of the mind? And then I would sit down and ponder over the various scenes and adventures in my book, endeavouring to ascertain how I came originally to devise them, and by dint of reflecting I remembered that to a single word in conversation, or some simple accident in a street or on a road, I was indebted for some of the happiest portions of my work; they were but tiny seeds, it is true, which in the soil of my imagination had subsequently become stately trees, but I reflected that without them no stately trees would have been produced, and that, consequently, only a part in the merit of these compositions which charmed the world—for the did charm the world—was due to myself. Thus, a dead fly was in my phial, poisoning all the pleasure which I should otherwise have derived from the result of my brain-sweat. "How hard!" I would exclaim, looking up to the sky, "how hard! I am like Virgil's sheep, bearing fleeces not for themselves." But, not to tire you, it fared with my second work as it did with my first; I flung it aside, and, in order to forget it, I began a third, on which I am now occupied; but the difficulty of writing it is immense, my extreme desire to be original sadly cramping the powers of my mind; my fastidiousness being so great that I invariably reject whatever ideas I do not think to be legitimately my own. But there is one circumstance to which I cannot help alluding here, as it serves to show what miseries this love of originality must needs bring upon an author. I am constantly discovering that, however original I may wish to be, I am continually producing the same things which other people say or write. Whenever, after producing something which gives me perfect satisfaction, and which has cost me perhaps days and nights of brooding, I chance to take up a book for the sake of a little relaxation, a book which I never saw before, I am sure to find in it something more or less resembling some part of what I have been just composing. You will easily conceive the distress which then comes over me; 'tis then that I am almost tempted to execrate the chance which, by discovering my latent powers, induced me to adopt a profession of such anxiety and misery.

'For some time past I have given up reading almost entirely, owing to the dread which I entertain of lighting upon something similar to what I myself have written. I scarcely ever transgress without having almost instant reason to repent. To-day, when I took up the newspaper, I saw in a speech of the Duke of Rhododendron, at an agricultural dinner, the very same ideas, and almost the same expressions which I had put into the mouth of an imaginary personage of mine, on a widely different occasion; you saw how I dashed the newspaper down—you saw how I touched the floor; the touch was to baffle the evil chance, to prevent the critics detecting any similarity between the speech of the Duke of Rhododendron at the agricultural dinner and the speech of my personage. My sensibility on the subject of my writings is so great that sometimes a chance word is sufficient to unman me, I apply it to them in a superstitious sense; for example, when you said some time ago that the dark hour was coming on, I applied it to my works—it appeared to bode them evil fortune; you saw how I touched, it was to baffle the evil chance; but I do not confine myself to touching when the fear of the evil chance is upon me. To baffle it I occasionally perform actions which must appear highly incomprehensible; I have been known, when riding in company with other people, to leave the direct road, and make a long circuit by a miry lane to the place to which we were going. I have also been seen attempting to ride across a morass, where I had no business whatever, and in which my horse finally sank up to its saddle-girths, and was only extricated by the help of a multitude of hands. I have, of course, frequently been asked the reason of such conduct, to which I have invariably returned no answer, for I scorn duplicity; whereupon people have looked mysteriously, and sometimes put their fingers to their foreheads. "And yet it can't be," I once heard an old gentleman say; "don't we know what he is capable of?" and the old man was right; I merely did these things to avoid the evil chance, impelled by the strange feeling within me; and this evil chance is invariably connected with my writings, the only things at present which render life valuable to me. If I touch various objects, and ride into miry places, it is to baffle any mischance befalling me as an author, to prevent my books getting into disrepute; in nine cases out of ten to prevent any expressions, thoughts, or situations in any work which I am writing from resembling the thoughts, expressions, and situations of other authors, for my great wish, as I told you before, is to be original.

'I have now related my history, and have revealed to you the secrets of my inmost bosom. I should certainly not have spoken so unreservedly as I have done, had I not discovered in you a kindred spirit. I have long wished for an opportunity of discoursing on the point which forms the peculiar feature of my history with a being who could understand me; and truly it was a lucky chance which brought you to these parts; you who seem to be acquainted with all things strange and singular, and who are as well acquainted with the subject of the magic touch as with all that relates to the star Jupiter or the mysterious tree at Upsal.'

Such was the story which my host related to me in the library, amidst the darkness, occasionally broken by flashes of lightning. Both of us remained silent for some time after it was concluded.

'It is a singular story,' said I, at last, 'though I confess that I was prepared for some part of it. Will you permit me to ask you a question?'

'Certainly,' said my host.

'Did you never speak in public?' said I.

'Never.'

'And when you made this speech of yours in the dining-room, commencing with Mr. Speaker, no one was present?'

'None in the world, I double-locked the door; what do you mean?'

'An idea came into my head—dear me how the rain is pouring—but, with respect to your present troubles and anxieties, would it not be wise, seeing that authorship causes you so much trouble and anxiety, to give it up altogether?'

'Were you an author yourself,' replied my host, 'you would not talk in this manner; once an author, ever an author—besides, what could I do? return to my former state of vegetation? no, much as I endure, I do not wish that; besides, every now and then my reason tells me that these troubles and anxieties of mine are utterly without; foundation that whatever I write is the legitimate growth of my own mind, and that it is the height of folly to afflict myself at any chance resemblance between my own thoughts and those of other writers, such resemblance being inevitable from the fact of our common human origin. In short—'

'I understand you,' said I; 'notwithstanding your troubles and anxieties you find life very tolerable; has your originality ever been called in question?'

'On the contrary, every one declares that originality constitutes the most remarkable feature of my writings; the man has some faults, they say, but want of originality is certainly not one of them. He is quite different from others—a certain newspaper, it is true, the—I think, once insinuated that in a certain work of mine I had taken a hint or two from the writings of a couple of authors which it mentioned; it happened, however, that I had never even read one syllable of the writings of either, and of one of them had never even heard the name; so much for the discrimination of the —-. By the bye, what a rascally newspaper that is!'

'A very rascally newspaper,' said I.



CHAPTER LXVII

Disturbed slumbers—The bed-post—Two wizards—What can I do?—Real library—The Rev. Mr. Platitude—Toleration to Dissenters—Paradox—Sword of St. Peter—Enemy to humbug—High principles—False concord—The damsel—What religion?—Further conversation—That would never do!—May you prosper.

During the greater part of that night my slumbers were disturbed by strange dreams. Amongst other things, I fancied that I was my host; my head appeared to be teeming with wild thoughts and imaginations, out of which I was endeavouring to frame a book. And now the book was finished and given to the world, and the world shouted; and all eyes were turned upon me, and I shrank from the eyes of the world. And, when I got into retired places, I touched various objects in order to baffle the evil chance. In short, during the whole night, I was acting over the story which I had heard before I went to bed.

At about eight o'clock I awoke. The storm had long since passed away, and the morning was bright and shining; my couch was so soft and luxurious that I felt loth to quit it, so I lay some time, my eyes wandering about the magnificent room to which fortune had conducted me in so singular a manner; at last I heaved a sigh; I was thinking of my own homeless condition, and imagining where I should find myself on the following morning. Unwilling, however, to indulge in melancholy thoughts, I sprang out of bed and proceeded to dress myself, and, whilst dressing, I felt an irresistible inclination to touch the bed-post.

I finished dressing and left the room, feeling compelled, however, as I left it, to touch the lintel of the door. Is it possible, thought I, that from what I have lately heard the long-forgotten influence should have possessed me again? but I will not give way to it; so I hurried downstairs, resisting as I went a certain inclination which I occasionally felt to touch the rail of the banister. I was presently upon the gravel walk before the house: it was indeed a glorious morning. I stood for some time observing the golden fish disporting in the waters of the pond, and then strolled about amongst the noble trees of the park; the beauty and freshness of the morning—for the air had been considerably cooled by the late storm—soon enabled me to cast away the gloomy ideas which had previously taken possession of my mind, and, after a stroll of about half an hour, I returned towards the house in high spirits. It is true that once I felt very much inclined to go and touch the leaves of a flowery shrub which I saw at some distance, and had even moved two or three paces towards it; but, bethinking myself, I manfully resisted the temptation. 'Begone!' I exclaimed, 'ye sorceries, in which I formerly trusted—begone for ever vagaries which I had almost forgotten; good luck is not to be obtained, or bad averted, by magic touches; besides, two wizards in one parish would be too much, in all conscience.'

I returned to the house, and entered the library; breakfast was laid on the table, and my friend was standing before the portrait which I have already said hung above the mantelpiece; so intently was he occupied in gazing at it that he did not hear me enter, nor was aware of my presence till I advanced close to him and spoke, when he turned round and shook me by the hand.

'What can possibly have induced you to hang up that portrait in your library? it is a staring likeness, it is true, but it appears to me a wretched daub.'

'Daub as you call it,' said my friend, smiling, 'I would not part with it for the best piece of Rafael. For many a happy thought I am indebted to that picture—it is my principal source of inspiration; when my imagination flags, as of course it occasionally does, I stare upon those features, and forthwith strange ideas of fun and drollery begin to flow into my mind; these I round, amplify, or combine into goodly creations, and bring forth as I find an opportunity. It is true that I am occasionally tormented by the thought that, by doing this, I am committing plagiarism; though, in that case, all thoughts must be plagiarisms, all that we think being the result of what we hear, see, or feel. What can I do? I must derive my thoughts from some source or other; and, after all, it is better to plagiarise from the features of my landlord than from the works of Butler and Cervantes. My works, as you are aware, are of a serio-comic character. My neighbours are of opinion that I am a great reader, and so I am, but only of those features—my real library is that picture.'

'But how did you obtain it?' said I.

'Some years ago a travelling painter came into this neighbourhood, and my jolly host, at the request of his wife, consented to sit for his portrait; she highly admired the picture, but she soon died, and then my fat friend, who is of an affectionate disposition, said he could not bear the sight of it, as it put him in mind of his poor wife. I purchased it of him for five pounds—I would not take five thousand for it; when you called that picture a daub, you did not see all the poetry of it.'

We sat down to breakfast; my entertainer appeared to be in much better spirits than on the preceding day; I did not observe him touch once; ere breakfast was over a servant entered—'The Reverend Mr. Platitude, sir,' said he.

A shade of dissatisfaction came over the countenance of my host. 'What does the silly pestilent fellow mean by coming here?' said he, half to himself; 'let him come in,' said he to the servant.

The servant went out, and in a moment reappeared, introducing the Reverend Mr. Platitude. The Reverend Mr. Platitude, having what is vulgarly called a game leg, came shambling into the room; he was about thirty years of age, and about five feet three inches high; his face was of the colour of pepper, and nearly as rugged as a nutmeg-grater; his hair was black; with his eyes he squinted, and grinned with his lips, which were very much apart, disclosing two very irregular rows of teeth; he was dressed in the true Levitical fashion, in a suit of spotless black, and a neckerchief of spotless white.

The Reverend Mr. Platitude advanced winking and grinning to my entertainer, who received him politely but with evident coldness; nothing daunted, however, the Reverend Mr. Platitude took a seat by the table, and, being asked to take a cup of coffee, winked, grinned, and consented.

In company I am occasionally subject to fits of what is generally called absence; my mind takes flight and returns to former scenes, or presses forward into the future. One of these fits of absence came over me at this time—I looked at the Reverend Mr. Platitude for a moment, heard a word or two that proceeded from his mouth, and saying to myself, 'You are no man for me,' fell into a fit of musing—into the same train of thought as in the morning, no very pleasant one—I was thinking of the future.

I continued in my reverie for some time, and probably should have continued longer, had I not been suddenly aroused by the voice of Mr. Platitude raised to a very high key. 'Yes, my dear sir,' said he, 'it is but too true; I have it on good authority—a gone church—a lost church—a ruined church—a demolished church is the Church of England. Toleration to Dissenters!—oh, monstrous!'

'I suppose,' said my host, 'that the repeal of the Test Acts will be merely a precursor of the emancipation of the Papists?'

'Of the Catholics,' said the Reverend Mr. Platitude. 'Ahem. There was a time, as I believe you are aware, my dear sir, when I was as much opposed to the emancipation of the Catholics as it was possible for any one to be; but I was prejudiced, my dear sir, labouring under a cloud of most unfortunate prejudice; but I thank my Maker I am so no longer. I have travelled, as you are aware. It is only by travelling that one can rub off prejudices; I think you will agree with me there. I am speaking to a traveller. I left behind all my prejudices in Italy. The Catholics are at least our fellow-Christians. I thank Heaven that I am no longer an enemy to Catholic emancipation.'

'And yet you would not tolerate Dissenters?'

'Dissenters, my dear sir; I hope you would not class such a set as the Dissenters with Catholics?'

'Perhaps it would be unjust,' said my host, 'though to which of the two parties is another thing; but permit me to ask you a question: Does it not smack somewhat of paradox to talk of Catholics, whilst you admit there are Dissenters? If there are Dissenters, how should there be Catholics?'

'It is not my fault that there are Dissenters,' said the Reverend Mr. Platitude; 'if I had my will I would neither admit there were any, nor permit any to be.'

'Of course you would admit there were such as long as they existed; but how would you get rid of them?'

'I would have the Church exert its authority.'

'What do you mean by exerting its authority?'

'I would not have the Church bear the sword in vain.'

'What, the sword of St. Peter? You remember what the founder of the religion which you profess said about the sword, "He who striketh with it . . . " I think those who have called themselves the Church have had enough of the sword. Two can play with the sword, Mr. Platitude. The Church of Rome tried the sword with the Lutherans: how did it fare with the Church of Rome? The Church of England tried the sword, Mr. Platitude, with the Puritans: how did it fare with Laud and Charles?'

'Oh, as for the Church of England,' said Mr. Platitude, 'I have little to say. Thank God, I left all my Church of England prejudices in Italy. Had the Church of England known its true interests, it would long ago have sought a reconciliation with its illustrious mother. If the Church of England had not been in some degree a schismatic church, it would not have fared so ill at the time of which you are speaking; the rest of the Church would have come to its assistance. The Irish would have helped it, so would the French, so would the Portuguese. Disunion has always been the bane of the Church.'

Once more I fell into a reverie. My mind now reverted to the past; methought I was in a small comfortable room wainscoted with oak; I was seated on one side of a fireplace, close by a table on which were wine and fruit; on the other side of the fire sat a man in a plain suit of brown, with the hair combed back from his somewhat high forehead; he had a pipe in his mouth, which for some time he smoked gravely and placidly, without saying a word; at length, after drawing at the pipe for some time rather vigorously, he removed it from his mouth, and, emitting an accumulated cloud of smoke, he exclaimed in a slow and measured tone, 'As I was telling you just now, my good chap, I have always been an enemy to humbug.'

When I awoke from my reverie the Reverend Mr. Platitude was quitting the apartment.

'Who is that person?' said I to my entertainer, as the door closed behind him.

'Who is he?' said my host; 'why, the Reverend Mr. Platitude.'

'Does he reside in this neighbourhood?'

'He holds a living about three miles from here; his history, as far as I am acquainted with it, is as follows. His father was a respectable tanner in the neighbouring town, who, wishing to make his son a gentleman, sent him to college. Having never been at college myself, I cannot say whether he took the wisest course; I believe it is more easy to unmake than to make a gentleman; I have known many gentlemanly youths go to college, and return anything but what they went. Young Mr. Platitude did not go to college a gentleman, but neither did he return one: he went to college an ass, and returned a prig; to his original folly was superadded a vast quantity of conceit. He told his father that he had adopted high principles, and was determined to discountenance everything low and mean; advised him to eschew trade, and to purchase him a living. The old man retired from business, purchased his son a living, and shortly after died, leaving him what remained of his fortune. The first thing the Reverend Mr. Platitude did, after his father's decease, was to send his mother and sister into Wales to live upon a small annuity, assigning as a reason that he was averse to anything low, and that they talked ungrammatically. Wishing to shine in the pulpit, he now preached high sermons, as he called them, interspersed with scraps of learning. His sermons did not, however, procure him much popularity; on the contrary, his church soon became nearly deserted, the greater part of his flock going over to certain dissenting preachers, who had shortly before made their appearance in the neighbourhood. Mr. Platitude was filled with wrath, and abused Dissenters in most unmeasured terms. Coming in contact with some of the preachers at a public meeting, he was rash enough to enter into argument with them. Poor Platitude! he had better have been quiet, he appeared like a child, a very infant, in their grasp; he attempted to take shelter under his college learning, but found, to his dismay, that his opponents knew more Greek and Latin than himself. These illiterate boors, as he had supposed them, caught him at once in a false concord, and Mr. Platitude had to slink home overwhelmed with shame. To avenge himself he applied to the ecclesiastical court, but was told that the Dissenters could not be put down by the present ecclesiastical law. He found the Church of England, to use his own expression, a poor, powerless, restricted Church. He now thought to improve his consequence by marriage, and made up to a rich and beautiful young lady in the neighbourhood; the damsel measured him from head to foot with a pair of very sharp eyes, dropped a curtsey, and refused him. Mr. Platitude, finding England a very stupid place, determined to travel; he went to Italy; how he passed his time there he knows best, to other people it is a matter of little importance. At the end of two years he returned with a real or assumed contempt for everything English, and especially for the Church to which he belongs, and out of which he is supported. He forthwith gave out that he had left behind him all his Church of England prejudices, and, as a proof thereof, spoke against sacerdotal wedlock and the toleration of schismatics. In an evil hour for myself he was introduced to me by a clergyman of my acquaintance, and from that time I have been pestered, as I was this morning, at least once a week. I seldom enter into any discussion with him, but fix my eyes on the portrait over the mantelpiece, and endeavour to conjure up some comic idea or situation, whilst he goes on talking tomfoolery by the hour about Church authority, schismatics, and the unlawfulness of sacerdotal wedlock; occasionally he brings with him a strange kind of being, whose acquaintance he says he made in Italy; I believe he is some sharking priest who has come over to proselytise and plunder. This being has some powers of conversation and some learning, but carries the countenance of an arch villain; Platitude is evidently his tool.'

'Of what religion are you?' said I to my host.

'That of the Vicar of Wakefield—good, quiet, Church of England, which would live and let live, practises charity, and rails at no one; where the priest is the husband of one wife, takes care of his family and his parish—such is the religion for me, though I confess I have hitherto thought too little of religious matters. When, however, I have completed this plaguy work on which I am engaged, I hope to be able to devote more attention to them.'

After some further conversation, the subjects being, if I remember right, college education, priggism, church authority, tomfoolery, and the like, I rose and said to my host, 'I must now leave you.'

'Whither are you going?'

'I do not know.'

'Stay here, then—you shall be welcome as many days, months, and years as you please to stay.'

'Do you think I would hang upon another man? No, not if he were Emperor of all the Chinas. I will now make my preparations, and then bid you farewell.'

I retired to my apartment and collected the handful of things which I carried with me on my travels.

'I will walk a little way with you,' said my friend on my return.

He walked with me to the park gate; neither of us said anything by the way. When we had come upon the road, I said, 'Farewell now; I will not permit you to give yourself any further trouble on my account. Receive my best thanks for your kindness; before we part, however, I should wish to ask you a question. Do you think you shall ever grow tired of authorship?'

'I have my fears,' said my friend, advancing his hand to one of the iron bars of the gate.

'Don't touch,' said I, 'it is a bad habit. I have but one word to add: should you ever grow tired of authorship follow your first idea of getting into Parliament; you have words enough at command; perhaps you want manner and method; but, in that case, you must apply to a teacher, you must take lessons of a master of elocution.'

'That would never do!' said my host; 'I know myself too well to think of applying for assistance to any one. Were I to become a parliamentary orator, I should wish to be an original one, even if not above mediocrity. What pleasure should I take in any speech I might make, however original as to thought, provided the gestures I employed and the very modulation of my voice were not my own? Take lessons, indeed! why, the fellow who taught me, the professor, might be standing in the gallery whilst I spoke; and, at the best parts of my speech, might say to himself, "That gesture is mine—that modulation is mine." I could not bear the thought of such a thing.'

'Farewell,' said I, 'and may you prosper. I have nothing more to say.'

I departed. At the distance of twenty yards I turned round suddenly; my friend was just withdrawing his finger from the bar of the gate.

{picture:My friend was just withdrawing his finger from the bar of the gate: page369.jpg}

'He has been touching,' said I, as I proceeded on my way; 'I wonder what was the evil chance he wished to baffle.'



CHAPTER LXVIII

Elastic step—Disconsolate party—Not the season—Mend your draught—Good ale—Crotchet—Hammer and tongs—Schoolmaster—True Eden life—Flaming Tinman—Twice my size—Hard at work—My poor wife—Grey Moll—A Bible—Half-and-half—What to do—Half inclined—In no time—On one condition—Don't stare—Like the wind.

After walking some time, I found myself on the great road, at the same spot where I had turned aside the day before with my new-made acquaintance, in the direction of his house. I now continued my journey as before, towards the north. The weather, though beautiful, was much cooler than it had been for some time past; I walked at a great rate, with a springing and elastic step. In about two hours I came to where a kind of cottage stood a little way back from the road, with a huge oak before it, under the shade of which stood a little pony and a cart, which seemed to contain various articles. I was going past—when I saw scrawled over the door of the cottage, 'Good beer sold here'; upon which, feeling myself all of a sudden very thirsty, I determined to go in and taste the beverage.

{picture:I was going past—when I saw scrawled over the door of the cottage, 'Good beer sold here.': page371.jpg}

I entered a well-sanded kitchen, and seated myself on a bench, on one side of a long white table; the other side, which was nearest to the wall, was occupied by a party, or rather family, consisting of a grimy- looking man, somewhat under the middle size, dressed in faded velveteens, and wearing a leather apron—a rather pretty-looking woman, but sun-burnt, and meanly dressed, and two ragged children, a boy and girl, about four or five years old. The man sat with his eyes fixed upon the table, supporting his chin with both his hands; the woman, who was next him, sat quite still, save that occasionally she turned a glance upon her husband with eyes that appeared to have been lately crying. The children had none of the vivacity so general at their age. A more disconsolate family I had never seen; a mug, which, when filled, might contain half a pint, stood empty before them; a very disconsolate party indeed.

'House!' said I; 'House!' and then, as nobody appeared, I cried again as loud as I could, 'House! do you hear me, House!'

'What's your pleasure, young man?' said an elderly woman, who now made her appearance from a side apartment.

'To taste your ale,' said I.

'How much?' said the woman, stretching out her hand towards the empty mug upon the table.

'The largest measure-full in your house,' said I, putting back her hand gently. 'This is not the season for half-pint mugs.'

'As you will, young man,' said the landlady; and presently brought in an earthen pitcher which might contain about three pints, and which foamed and frothed withal.

'Will this pay for it?' said I, putting down sixpence.

{picture:'Will this pay for it?' said I, putting down sixpence: page373.jpg}

'I have to return you a penny,' said the landlady, putting her hand into her pocket.

'I want no change,' said I, flourishing my hand with an air.

'As you please, young gentleman,' said the landlady, and then, making a kind of curtsey, she again retired to the side apartment.

'Here is your health, sir,' said I to the grimy-looking man, as I raised the pitcher to my lips.

The tinker, for such I supposed him to be, without altering his posture, raised his eyes, looked at me for a moment, gave a slight nod, and then once more fixed his eyes upon the table. I took a draught of the ale, which I found excellent; 'Won't you drink?' said I, holding the pitcher to the tinker.

The man again lifted up his eyes, looked at me, and then at the pitcher, and then at me again. I thought at one time that he was about to shake his head in sign of refusal; but no, he looked once more at the pitcher, and the temptation was too strong. Slowly removing his head from his arms, he took the pitcher, sighed, nodded, and drank a tolerable quantity, and then set the pitcher down before me upon the table.

'You had better mend your draught,' said I to the tinker; 'it is a sad heart that never rejoices.'

'That's true,' said the tinker, and again raising the pitcher to his lips, he mended his draught as I had bidden him, drinking a larger quantity than before.

'Pass it to your wife,' said I.

The poor woman took the pitcher from the man's hand; before, however, raising it to her lips, she looked at the children. True mother's heart, thought I to myself, and taking the half-pint mug, I made her fill it, and then held it to the children, causing each to take a draught. The woman wiped her eyes with the corner of her gown, before she raised the pitcher and drank to my health.

In about five minutes none of the family looked half so disconsolate as before, and the tinker and I were in deep discourse.

Oh, genial and gladdening is the power of good ale, the true and proper drink of Englishmen. He is not deserving of the name of Englishman who speaketh against ale, that is good ale, like that which has just made merry the hearts of this poor family; and yet there are beings, calling themselves Englishmen, who say that it is a sin to drink a cup of ale, and who, on coming to this passage will be tempted to fling down the book and exclaim, 'The man is evidently a bad man, for behold, by his own confession, he is not only fond of ale himself, but is in the habit of tempting other people with it.' Alas! alas! what a number of silly individuals there are in this world; I wonder what they would have had me do in this instance—given the afflicted family a cup of cold water? go to! They could have found water in the road, for there was a pellucid spring only a few yards distant from the house, as they were well aware—but they wanted not water; what should I have given them? meat and bread? go to! They were not hungry; there was stifled sobbing in their bosoms, and the first mouthful of strong meat would have choked them. What should I have given them? Money! what right had I to insult them by offering them money? Advice! words, words, words; friends, there is a time for everything; there is a time for a cup of cold water; there is a time for strong meat and bread; there is a time for advice, and there is a time for ale; and I have generally found that the time for advice is after a cup of ale. I do not say many cups; the tongue then speaketh more smoothly, and the ear listeneth more benignantly; but why do I attempt to reason with you? do I not know you for conceited creatures, with one idea—and that a foolish one;—a crotchet, for the sake of which ye would sacrifice anything, religion if required—country? There, fling down my book, I do not wish ye to walk any farther in my company, unless you cast your nonsense away, which ye will never do, for it is the breath of your nostrils; fling down my book, it was not written to support a crotchet, for know one thing, my good people, I have invariably been an enemy to humbug.

'Well,' said the tinker, after we had discoursed some time, 'little thought, when I first saw you, that you were of my own trade.'

Myself. Nor am I, at least not exactly. There is not much difference, 'tis true, between a tinker and a smith.

Tinker. You are a whitesmith then?

Myself. Not I, I'd scorn to be anything so mean; no, friend, black's the colour; I am a brother of the horse-shoe. Success to the hammer and tongs.

Tinker. Well, I shouldn't have thought you had been a blacksmith by your hands.

Myself. I have seen them, however, as black as yours. The truth is, I have not worked for many a day.

Tinker. Where did you serve first?

Myself. In Ireland.

Tinker. That's a good way off, isn't it?

Myself. Not very far; over those mountains to the left, and the run of salt water that lies behind them, there's Ireland.

Tinker. It's a fine thing to be a scholar.

Myself. Not half so fine as to be a tinker.

Tinker. How you talk!

Myself. Nothing but the truth; what can be better than to be one's own master? Now a tinker is his own master, a scholar is not. Let us suppose the best of scholars, a schoolmaster for example, for I suppose you will admit that no one can be higher in scholarship than a schoolmaster; do you call his a pleasant life? I don't; we should call him a school-slave, rather than a schoolmaster. Only conceive him in blessed weather like this, in his close school, teaching children to write in copy-books, 'Evil communication corrupts good manners,' or 'You cannot touch pitch without defilement,' or to spell out of Abedariums, or to read out of Jack Smith, or Sandford and Merton. Only conceive him, I say, drudging in such guise from morning till night, without any rational enjoyment but to beat the children. Would you compare such a dog's life as that with your own—the happiest under heaven—true Eden life, as the Germans would say,—pitching your tent under the pleasant hedgerows, listening to the song of the feathered tribes, collecting all the leaky kettles in the neighbourhood, soldering and joining, earning your honest bread by the wholesome sweat of your brow—making ten holes—hey, what's this? what's the man crying for?

Suddenly the tinker had covered his face with his hands, and begun to sob and moan like a man in the deepest distress; the breast of his wife was heaved with emotion; even the children were agitated, the youngest began to roar.

Myself. What's the matter with you; what are you all crying about?

Tinker (uncovering his face). Lord, why to hear you talk; isn't that enough to make anybody cry—even the poor babes? Yes, you said right, 'tis life in the garden of Eden—the tinker's; I see so now that I'm about to give it up.

Myself. Give it up! you must not think of such a thing.

Tinker. No, I can't bear to think of it, and yet I must; what's to be done? How hard to be frightened to death, to be driven off the roads.

Myself. Who has driven you off the roads?

Tinker. Who! the Flaming Tinman.

Myself. Who is he?

Tinker. The biggest rogue in England, and the cruellest, or he wouldn't have served me as he has done—I'll tell you all about it. I was born upon the roads, and so was my father before me, and my mother too; and I worked with them as long as they lived, as a dutiful child, for I have nothing to reproach myself with on their account; and when my father died I took up the business, and went his beat, and supported my mother for the little time she lived; and when she died I married this young woman, who was not born upon the roads, but was a small tradesman's daughter, at Gloster. She had a kindness for me, and, notwithstanding her friends were against the match, she married the poor tinker, and came to live with him upon the roads. Well, young man, for six or seven years I—as the happiest fellow breathing, living just the life you described just now—respected by everybody in this beat; when in an evil hour comes this Black Jack, this flaming tinman, into these parts, driven as they say out of Yorkshire—for no good you may be sure. Now there is no beat will support two tinkers, as you doubtless know; mine was a good one, but it would not support the flying tinker and myself, though if it would have supported twenty it would have been all the same to the flying villain, who'll brook no one but himself; so he presently finds me out, and offers to fight me for the beat. Now, being bred upon the roads, I can fight a little, that is with anything like my match, but I was not going to fight him, who happens to be twice my size, and so I told him; whereupon he knocks me down, and would have done me farther mischief had not some men been nigh and prevented him; so he threatened to cut my throat, and went his way. Well, I did not like such usage at all, and was woundily frightened, and tried to keep as much out of his way as possible, going anywhere but where I thought I was likely to meet him; and sure enough for several months I contrived to keep out of his way. At last somebody told me that he was gone back to Yorkshire, whereupon I was glad at heart, and ventured to show myself, going here and there as I did before. Well, young man, it was yesterday that I and mine set ourselves down in a lane, about five miles from here, and lighted our fire, and had our dinner, and after dinner I sat down to mend three kettles and a frying pan which the people in the neighbourhood had given me to mend—for, as I told you before, I have a good connection, owing to my honesty. Well, as I sat there hard at work, happy as the day's long, and thinking of anything but what was to happen, who should come up but this Black Jack, this king of the tinkers, rattling along in his cart, with his wife, that they call Grey Moll, by his side—for the villain has got a wife, and a maid-servant too; the last I never saw, but they that has, says that she is as big as a house, and young, and well to look at, which can't be all said of Moll, who, though she's big enough in all conscience, is neither young nor handsome. Well, no sooner does he see me and mine, than, giving the reins to Grey Moll, he springs out of his cart, and comes straight at me; not a word did he say, but on he comes straight at me like a wild bull. I am a quiet man, young fellow, but I saw now that quietness would be of no use, so I sprang up upon my legs, and being bred upon the roads, and able to fight a little, I squared as he came running in upon me, and had a round or two with him. Lord bless you, young man, it was like a fly fighting with an elephant—one of those big beasts the show-folks carry about. I had not a chance with the fellow, he knocked me here, he knocked me there, knocked me into the hedge, and knocked me out again. I was at my last shifts, and my poor wife saw it. Now my poor wife, though she is as gentle as a pigeon, has yet a spirit of her own, and though she wasn't bred upon the roads, can scratch a little; so when she saw me at my last shifts, she flew at the villain—she couldn't bear to see her partner murdered—and scratched the villain's face. Lord bless you, young man, she had better have been quiet: Grey Moll no sooner saw what she was about, than, springing out of the cart, where she had sat all along perfectly quiet, save a little whooping and screeching to encourage her blade:—Grey Moll, I say (my flesh creeps when I think of it—for I am a kind husband, and love my poor wife) . . .

Myself. Take another draught of the ale; you look frightened, and it will do you good. Stout liquor makes stout heart, as the man says in the play.

Tinker. That's true, young man; here's to you—where was I? Grey Moll no sooner saw what my wife was about, than, springing out of the cart, she flew at my poor wife, clawed off her bonnet in a moment, and seized hold of her hair. Lord bless you, young man, my poor wife, in the hands of Grey Moll, was nothing better than a pigeon in the claws of a buzzard hawk, or I in the hands of the Flaming Tinman, which when I saw, my heart was fit to burst, and I determined to give up everything—everything to save my poor wife out of Grey Moll's claws. 'Hold!' I shouted. 'Hold, both of you—Jack, Moll. Hold, both of you, for God's sake, and I'll do what you will: give up trade, and business, connection, bread, and everything, never more travel the roads, and go down on my knees to you in the bargain.' Well, this had some effect; Moll let go my wife, and the Blazing Tinman stopped for a moment; it was only for a moment, however, that he left off—all of a sudden he hit me a blow which sent me against a tree; and what did the villain then? why the flying villain seized me by the throat, and almost throttled me, roaring—what do you think, young man, that the flaming villain roared out?

Myself. I really don't know—something horrible, I suppose.

Tinker. Horrible, indeed; you may well say horrible, young man; neither more nor less than the Bible—'A Bible, a Bible!' roared the Blazing Tinman; and he pressed my throat so hard against the tree that my senses began to dwaul away—a Bible, a Bible, still ringing in my ears. Now, young man, my poor wife is a Christian woman, and, though she travels the roads, carries a Bible with her at the bottom of her sack, with which sometimes she teaches the children to read—it was the only thing she brought with her from the place of her kith and kin, save her own body and the clothes on her back; so my poor wife, half distracted, runs to her sack, pulls out the Bible, and puts it into the hand of the Blazing Tinman, who then thrusts the end of it into my mouth with such fury that it made my lips bleed, and broke short one of my teeth which happened to be decayed. 'Swear,' said he, 'swear, you mumping villain, take your Bible oath that you will quit and give up the beat altogether, or I'll—and then the hard-hearted villain made me swear by the Bible, and my own damnation, half-throttled as I was, to—to—I can't go on—

Myself. Take another draught—stout liquor—

Tinker. I can't, young man, my heart's too full, and what's more, the pitcher is empty.

Myself. And so he swore you, I suppose, on the Bible, to quit the roads?

Tinker. You are right, he did so, the gypsy villain.

Myself. Gypsy! Is he a gypsy?

Tinker. Not exactly; what they call a half-and-half. His father was a gypsy, and his mother, like mine, one who walked the roads.

Myself. Is he of the Smiths—the Petulengres?

Tinker. I say, young man, you know a thing or two; one would think, to hear you talk, you had been bred upon the roads. I thought none but those bred upon the roads knew anything of that name—Petulengres! No, not he, he fights the Petulengres whenever he meets them; he likes nobody but himself, and wants to be king of the roads. I believe he is a Boss, or a—at any rate he's a bad one, as I know to my cost.

Myself. And what are you going to do?

Tinker. Do! you may well ask that; I don't know what to do. My poor wife and I have been talking of that all the morning, over that half-pint mug of beer; we can't determine on what's to be done. All we know is, that we must quit the roads. The villain swore that the next time he saw us on the roads he'd cut all our throats, and seize our horse and bit of a cart that are now standing out there under the tree.

Myself. And what do you mean to do with your horse and cart?

Tinker. Another question! What shall we do with our cart and pony? they are of no use to us now. Stay on the roads I will not, both for my oath's sake and my own. If we had a trifle of money, we were thinking of going to Bristol, where I might get up a little business, but we have none; our last three farthings we spent about the mug of beer.

Myself. But why don't you sell your horse and cart?

Tinker. Sell them! and who would buy them, unless some one who wished to set up in my line; but there's no beat, and what's the use of the horse and cart and the few tools without the beat?

Myself. I'm half inclined to buy your cart and pony, and your beat too.

Tinker. You! How came you to think of such a thing?

Myself. Why, like yourself, I hardly know what to do. I want a home and work. As for a home, I suppose I can contrive to make a home out of your tent and cart; and as for work, I must learn to be a tinker, it would not be hard for one of my trade to learn to tinker; what better can I do? Would you have me go to Chester and work there now? I don't like the thoughts of it. If I go to Chester and work there, I can't be my own man; I must work under a master, and perhaps he and I should quarrel, and when I quarrel I am apt to hit folks, and those that hit folks are sometimes sent to prison; I don't like the thought either of going to Chester or to Chester prison. What do you think I could earn at Chester?

Tinker. A matter of eleven shillings a week, if anybody would employ you, which I don't think they would with those hands of yours. But whether they would or not, if you are of a quarrelsome nature you must not go to Chester; you would be in the castle in no time. I don't know how to advise you. As for selling you my stock, I'd see you farther first, for your own sake.

Myself. Why?

Tinker. Why! you would get your head knocked off. Suppose you were to meet him?

Myself. Pooh, don't be afraid on my account; if I were to meet him I could easily manage him one way or other. I know all kinds of strange words and names, and, as I told you before, I sometimes hit people when they put me out.

Here the tinker's wife, who for some minutes past had been listening attentively to our discourse, interposed, saying, in a low soft tone: 'I really don't see, John, why you shouldn't sell the young man the things, seeing that he wishes for them, and is so confident; you have told him plainly how matters stand, and if anything ill should befall him, people couldn't lay the blame on you; but I don't think any ill will befall him, and who knows but God has sent him to our assistance in time of need?'

'I'll hear of no such thing,' said the tinker; 'I have drunk at the young man's expense, and though he says he's quarrelsome, I would not wish to sit in pleasanter company. A pretty fellow I should be, now, if I were to let him follow his own will. If he once sets up on my beat, he's a lost man, his ribs will be stove in, and his head knocked off his shoulders. There, you are crying, but you shan't have your will though; I won't be the young man's destruction . . . If, indeed, I thought he could manage the tinker—but he never can; he says he can hit, but it's no use hitting the tinker,—crying still! you are enough to drive one mad. I say, young man, I believe you understand a thing or two, just now you were talking of knowing hard words and names—I don't wish to send you to your mischief—you say you know hard words and names; let us see. Only on one condition I'll sell you the pony and things; as for the beat it's gone, isn't mine—sworn away by my own mouth. Tell me what's my name; if you can't, may I—'

Myself. Don't swear, it's a bad habit, neither pleasant nor profitable. Your name is Slingsby—Jack Slingsby. There, don't stare, there's nothing in my telling you your name: I've been in these parts before, at least not very far from here. Ten years ago, when I was little more than a child, I was about twenty miles from here in a post- chaise, at the door of an inn, and as I looked from the window of the chaise, I saw you standing by a gutter, with a big tin ladle in your hand, and somebody called you Jack Slingsby. I never forget anything I hear or see; I can't, I wish I could. So there's nothing strange in my knowing your name; indeed, there's nothing strange in anything, provided you examine it to the bottom. Now what am I to give you for the things?

I paid Slingsby five pounds ten shillings for his stock in trade, cart, and pony—purchased sundry provisions of the landlady, also a wagoner's frock, which had belonged to a certain son of hers, deceased, gave my little animal a feed of corn, and prepared to depart.

'God bless you, young man,' said Slingsby, shaking me by the hand; 'you are the best friend I've had for many a day: I have but one thing to tell you, Don't cross that fellow's path if you can help it; and stay—should the pony refuse to go, just touch him so, and he'll fly like the wind.'



CHAPTER LXIX

Effects of corn—One night longer—The hoofs—A stumble—Are you hurt?—What a difference—Drowsy—Maze of bushes—Housekeeping—Sticks and furze—The driftway—Account of stock—Anvil and bellows—Twenty years.

It was two or three hours past noon when I took my departure from the place of the last adventure, walking by the side of my little cart; the pony, invigorated by the corn, to which he was probably not much accustomed, proceeded right gallantly; so far from having to hasten him forward by the particular application which the tinker had pointed out to me, I had rather to repress his eagerness, being, though an excellent pedestrian, not unfrequently left behind. The country through which I passed was beautiful and interesting, but solitary; few habitations appeared. As it was quite a matter of indifference to me in what direction I went, the whole world being before me, I allowed the pony to decide upon the matter; it was not long before he left the high-road, being probably no friend to public places. I followed him I knew not whither, but, from subsequent observation, have reason to suppose that our course was in a north-west direction. At length night came upon us, and a cold wind sprang up, which was succeeded by a drizzling rain.

I had originally intended to pass the night in the cart, or to pitch my little tent on some convenient spot by the road's side; but, owing to the alteration in the weather, I thought that it would be advisable to take up my quarters in any hedge alehouse at which I might arrive. To tell the truth, I was not very sorry to have an excuse to pass the night once more beneath a roof. I had determined to live quite independent, but I had never before passed a night by myself abroad, and felt a little apprehensive at the idea; I hoped, however, on the morrow, to be a little more prepared for the step, so I determined for one night—only for one night longer—to sleep like a Christian; but human determinations are not always put into effect, such a thing as opportunity is frequently wanting, such was the case here. I went on for a considerable time, in expectation of coming to some rustic hostelry, but nothing of the kind presented itself to my eyes; the country in which I now was seemed almost uninhabited, not a house of any kind was to be seen—at least I saw none—though it is true houses might be near without my seeing them, owing to the darkness of the night, for neither moon nor star was abroad. I heard, occasionally, the bark of dogs; but the sound appeared to come from an immense distance. The rain still fell, and the ground beneath my feet was wet and miry; in short, it was a night in which even a tramper by profession would feel more comfortable in being housed than abroad. I followed in the rear of the cart, the pony still proceeding at a sturdy pace, till methought I heard other hoofs than those of my own nag; I listened for a moment, and distinctly heard the sound of hoofs approaching at a great rate, and evidently from the quarter towards which I and my little caravan were moving. We were in a dark lane—so dark that it was impossible for me to see my own hand. Apprehensive that some accident might occur, I ran forward, and, seizing the pony by the bridle, drew him as near as I could to the hedge. On came the hoofs—trot, trot, trot; and evidently more than those of one horse; their speed as they advanced appeared to slacken—it was only, however, for a moment. I heard a voice cry, 'Push on,—this is a desperate robbing place,—never mind the dark'; and the hoofs came on quicker than before. 'Stop!' said I, at the top of my voice; 'stop! or—' Before I could finish what I was about to say there was a stumble, a heavy fall, a cry, and a groan, and putting out my foot I felt what I conjectured to be the head of a horse stretched upon the road. 'Lord have mercy upon us! what's the matter?' exclaimed a voice. 'Spare my life,' cried another voice, apparently from the ground; 'only spare my life, and take all I have.' 'Where are you, Master Wise?' cried the other voice. 'Help! here, Master Bat,' cried the voice from the ground; 'help me up or I shall be murdered.' 'Why, what's the matter?' said Bat. 'Some one has knocked me down, and is robbing me,' said the voice from the ground. 'Help! murder!' cried Bat; and, regardless of the entreaties of the man on the ground that he would stay and help him up, he urged his horse forward and galloped away as fast as he could. I remained for some time quiet, listening to various groans and exclamations uttered by the person on the ground; at length I said, 'Holloa! are you hurt?' 'Spare my life, and take all I have!' said the voice from the ground. 'Have they not done robbing you yet?' said I; 'when they have finished let me know, and I will come and help you.' 'Who is that?' said the voice; 'pray come and help me, and do me no mischief.' 'You were saying that some one was robbing you,' said I; 'don't think I shall come till he is gone away.' 'Then you ben't he?' said the voice. 'Aren't you robbed?' said I. 'Can't say I be,' said the voice; 'not yet at any rate; but who are you? I don't know you.' 'A traveller whom you and your partner were going to run over in this dark lane; you almost frightened me out of my senses.' 'Frightened!' said the voice, in a louder tone; 'frightened! oh!' and thereupon I heard somebody getting upon his legs. This accomplished, the individual proceeded to attend to his horse, and with a little difficulty raised him upon his legs also. 'Aren't you hurt?' said I. 'Hurt!' said the voice; 'not I; don't think it, whatever the horse may be. I tell you what, my fellow, I thought you were a robber, and now I find you are not; I have a good mind—' 'To do what?' 'To serve you out; aren't you ashamed—?' 'At what?' said I; 'not to have robbed you? Shall I set about it now?' 'Ha, ha!' said the man, dropping the bullying tone which he had assumed; 'you are joking—robbing! who talks of robbing? I wonder how my horse's knees are; not much hurt, I think—only mired.' The man, whoever he was, then got upon his horse; and, after moving him about a little, said, 'Good night, friend; where are you?' 'Here I am,' said I, 'just behind you.' 'You are, are you? Take that.' I know not what he did, but probably pricking his horse with the spur the animal kicked out violently; one of his heels struck me on the shoulder, but luckily missed my face; I fell back with the violence of the blow, whilst the fellow scampered off at a great rate. Stopping at some distance, he loaded me with abuse, and then, continuing his way at a rapid trot, I heard no more of him.

'What a difference!' said I, getting up; 'last night I was feted in the hall of a rich genius, and to-night I am knocked down and mired in a dark lane by the heel of Master Wise's horse—I wonder who gave him that name? And yet he was wise enough to wreak his revenge upon me, and I was not wise enough to keep out of his way. Well, I am not much hurt, so it is of little consequence.'

I now bethought me that, as I had a carriage of my own, I might as well make use of it; I therefore got into the cart, and, taking the reins in my hand, gave an encouraging cry to the pony, whereupon the sturdy little animal started again at as brisk a pace as if he had not already come many a long mile. I lay half reclining in the cart, holding the reins lazily, and allowing the animal to go just where he pleased, often wondering where he would conduct me. At length I felt drowsy, and my head sank upon my breast; I soon aroused myself, but it was only to doze again; this occurred several times. Opening my eyes after a doze somewhat longer than the others, I found that the drizzling rain had ceased, a corner of the moon was apparent in the heavens, casting a faint light; I looked around for a moment or two, but my eyes and brain were heavy with slumber, and I could scarcely distinguish where we were. I had a kind of dim consciousness that we were traversing an uninclosed country—perhaps a heath; I thought, however, that I saw certain large black objects looming in the distance, which I had a confused idea might be woods or plantations; the pony still moved at his usual pace. I did not find the jolting of the cart at all disagreeable, on the contrary, it had quite a somniferous effect upon me. Again my eyes closed; I opened them once more, but with less perception in them than before, looked forward, and, muttering something about woodlands, I placed myself in an easier posture than I had hitherto done, and fairly fell asleep.

How long I continued in that state I am unable to say, but I believe for a considerable time; I was suddenly awakened by the ceasing of the jolting to which I had become accustomed, and of which I was perfectly sensible in my sleep. I started up and looked around me, the moon was still shining, and the face of the heaven was studded with stars; I found myself amidst a maze of bushes of various kinds, but principally hazel and holly, through which was a path or driftway with grass growing on either side, upon which the pony was already diligently browsing. I conjectured that this place had been one of the haunts of his former master, and, on dismounting and looking about, was strengthened in that opinion by finding a spot under an ash tree which, from its burnt and blackened appearance, seemed to have been frequently used as a fireplace. I will take up my quarters here, thought I; it is an excellent spot for me to commence my new profession in; I was quite right to trust myself to the guidance of the pony. Unharnessing the animal without delay, I permitted him to browse at free will on the grass, convinced that he would not wander far from a place to which he was so much attached; I then pitched the little tent close beside the ash tree to which I have alluded, and conveyed two or three articles into it, and instantly felt that I had commenced housekeeping for the first time in my life. Housekeeping, however, without a fire is a very sorry affair, something like the housekeeping of children in their toy houses; of this I was the more sensible from feeling very cold and shivering, owing to my late exposure to the rain, and sleeping in the night air. Collecting, therefore, all the dry sticks and furze I could find, I placed them upon the fireplace, adding certain chips and a billet which I found in the cart, it having apparently been the habit of Slingsby to carry with him a small store of fuel. Having then struck a spark in a tinder-box and lighted a match, I set fire to the combustible heap, and was not slow in raising a cheerful blaze; I then drew my cart near the fire, and, seating myself on one of the shafts, hung over the warmth with feelings of intense pleasure and satisfaction. Having continued in this posture for a considerable time, I turned my eyes to the heaven in the direction of a particular star; I, however, could not find the star, nor indeed many of the starry train, the greater number having fled, from which circumstance, and from the appearance of the sky, I concluded that morning was nigh. About this time I again began to feel drowsy; I therefore arose, and having prepared for myself a kind of couch in the tent, I flung myself upon it and went to sleep.

I will not say that I was awakened in the morning by the carolling of birds, as I perhaps might if I were writing a novel; I awoke because, to use vulgar language, I had slept my sleep out, not because the birds were carolling around me in numbers, as they had probably been for hours without my hearing them. I got up and left my tent; the morning was yet more bright than that of the preceding day. Impelled by curiosity, I walked about endeavouring to ascertain to what place chance, or rather the pony, had brought me; following the driftway for some time, amidst bushes and stunted trees, I came to a grove of dark pines, through which it appeared to lead; I tracked it a few hundred yards, but seeing nothing but trees, and the way being wet and sloughy, owing to the recent rain, I returned on my steps, and, pursuing the path in another direction, came to a sandy road leading over a common, doubtless the one I had traversed the preceding night. My curiosity satisfied, I returned to my little encampment, and on the way beheld a small footpath on the left winding through the bushes, which had before escaped my observation. Having reached my tent and cart, I breakfasted on some of the provisions which I had procured the day before, and then proceeded to take a regular account of the stock formerly possessed by Slingsby the tinker, but now become my own by right of lawful purchase.

Besides the pony, the cart, and the tent, I found I was possessed of a mattress stuffed with straw on which to lie, and a blanket to cover me, the last quite clean and nearly new; then there was a frying-pan and a kettle, the first for cooking any food which required cooking, and the second for heating any water which I might wish to heat. I likewise found an earthen teapot and two or three cups; of the first I should rather say I found the remains, it being broken in three parts, no doubt since it came into my possession, which would have precluded the possibility of my asking anybody to tea for the present, should anybody visit me, even supposing I had tea and sugar, which was not the case. I then overhauled what might more strictly be called the stock in trade; this consisted of various tools, an iron ladle, a chafing-pan and small bellows, sundry pans and kettles, the latter being of tin, with the exception of one which was of copper, all in a state of considerable dilapidation—if I may use the term; of these first Slingsby had spoken in particular, advising me to mend them as soon as possible, and to endeavour to sell them, in order that I might have the satisfaction of receiving some return upon the outlay which I had made. There was likewise a small quantity of block tin, sheet tin, and solder. 'This Slingsby,' said I, 'is certainly a very honest man, he has sold me more than my money's worth; I believe, however, there is something more in the cart.' Thereupon I rummaged the farther end of the cart, and, amidst a quantity of straw, I found a small anvil and bellows of that kind which are used in forges, and two hammers such as smiths use, one great, and the other small.

The sight of these last articles caused me no little surprise, as no word which had escaped from the mouth of Slingsby had given me reason to suppose that he had ever followed the occupation of a smith; yet, if he had not, how did he come by them? I sat down upon the shaft, and pondered the question deliberately in my mind; at length I concluded that he had come by them by one of those numerous casualties which occur upon the roads, of which I, being a young hand upon the roads, must have a very imperfect conception; honestly, of course—for I scouted the idea that Slingsby would have stolen this blacksmith's gear—for I had the highest opinion of his honesty, which opinion I still retain at the present day, which is upwards of twenty years from the time of which I am speaking, during the whole of which period I have neither seen the poor fellow nor received any intelligence of him.



CHAPTER LXX

New profession—Beautiful night—Jupiter—Sharp and shrill—The Rommany chi—All alone—Three-and-sixpence—What is Rommany? Be civil—Parraco tute—Slight start—She will be grateful—The rustling.

I passed the greater part of the day in endeavouring to teach myself the mysteries of my new profession. I cannot say that I was very successful, but the time passed agreeably, and was therefore not ill spent. Towards evening I flung my work aside, took some refreshment, and afterwards a walk.

This time I turned up the small footpath of which I have already spoken. It led in a zigzag manner through thickets of hazel, elder, and sweet- brier; after following its windings for somewhat better than a furlong, I heard a gentle sound of water, and presently came to a small rill, which ran directly across the path. I was rejoiced at the sight, for I had already experienced the want of water, which I yet knew must be nigh at hand, as I was in a place to all appearance occasionally frequented by wandering people, who I was aware never take up their quarters in places where water is difficult to be obtained. Forthwith I stretched myself on the ground, and took a long and delicious draught of the crystal stream, and then, seating myself in a bush, I continued for some time gazing on the water as it purled tinkling away in its channel through an opening in the hazels, and should have probably continued much longer had not the thought that I had left my property unprotected compelled me to rise and return to my encampment.

Night came on, and a beautiful night it was; up rose the moon, and innumerable stars decked the firmament of heaven. I sat on the shaft, my eyes turned upwards. I had found it: there it was twinkling millions of miles above me, mightiest star of the system to which we belong: of all stars the one which has most interest for me—the star Jupiter.

Why have I always taken an interest in thee, O Jupiter? I know nothing about thee, save what every child knows, that thou art a big star, whose only light is derived from moons. And is not that knowledge enough to make me feel an interest in thee? Ay, truly; I never look at thee without wondering what is going on in thee; what is life in Jupiter? That there is life in Jupiter who can doubt? There is life in our own little star, therefore there must be life in Jupiter, which is not a little star. But how different must life be in Jupiter from what it is in our own little star! Life here is life beneath the dear sun—life in Jupiter is life beneath moons—four moons—no single moon is able to illumine that vast bulk. All know what life is in our own little star; it is anything but a routine of happiness here, where the dear sun rises to us every day: then how sad and moping must life be in mighty Jupiter, on which no sun ever shines, and which is never lighted save by pale moonbeams! The thought that there is more sadness and melancholy in Jupiter than in this world of ours, where, alas! there is but too much, has always made me take a melancholy interest in that huge distant star.

Two or three days passed by in much the same manner as the first. During the morning I worked upon my kettles, and employed the remaining part of the day as I best could. The whole of this time I only saw two individuals, rustics, who passed by my encampment without vouchsafing me a glance; they probably considered themselves my superiors, as perhaps they were.

One very brilliant morning, as I sat at work in very good spirits, for by this time I had actually mended in a very creditable way, as I imagined, two kettles and a frying-pan, I heard a voice which seemed to proceed from the path leading to the rivulet; at first it sounded from a considerable distance, but drew nearer by degrees. I soon remarked that the tones were exceedingly sharp and shrill, with yet something of childhood in them. Once or twice I distinguished certain words in the song which the voice was singing; the words were—but no, I thought again I was probably mistaken—and then the voice ceased for a time; presently I heard it again, close to the entrance of the footpath; in another moment I heard it in the lane or glade in which stood my tent, where it abruptly stopped, but not before I had heard the very words which I at first thought I had distinguished.

I turned my head; at the entrance of the footpath, which might be about thirty yards from the place where I was sitting, I perceived the figure of a young girl; her face was turned towards me, and she appeared to be scanning me and my encampment; after a little time she looked in the other direction, only for a moment, however; probably observing nothing in that quarter, she again looked towards me, and almost immediately stepped forward; and, as she advanced, sang the song which I had heard in the wood, the first words of which were those which I have already alluded to.

'The Rommany chi And the Rommany chal Shall jaw tasaulor To drab the bawlor, And dook the gry Of the farming rye.'

{picture:'The Rommany chi.': page393.jpg}

A very pretty song, thought I, falling again hard to work upon my kettle; a very pretty song, which bodes the farmers much good. Let them look to their cattle.

'All alone here, brother?' said a voice close by me, in sharp but not disagreeable tones.

I made no answer, but continued my work, click, click, with the gravity which became one of my profession. I allowed at least half a minute to elapse before I even lifted up my eyes.

A girl of about thirteen was standing before me; her features were very pretty, but with a peculiar expression; her complexion was a clear olive, and her jet black hair hung back upon her shoulders. She was rather scantily dressed, and her arms and feet were bare; round her neck, however, was a handsome string of corals, with ornaments of gold; in her hand she held a bulrush.

'All alone here, brother?' said the girl, as I looked up; 'all alone here, in the lane; where are your wife and children?'

'Why do you call me brother?' said I; 'am no brother of yours. Do you take me for one of your people? I am no gypsy; not I, indeed!'

'Don't be afraid, brother, you are no Roman—Roman indeed, you are not handsome enough to be a Roman; not black enough, tinker though you be. If I called you brother, it was because I didn't know what else to call you. Marry, come up, brother, I should be sorry to have you for a brother.'

'Then you don't like me?'

'Neither like you nor dislike you, brother; what will you have for that kekaubi?'

'What's the use of talking to me in that unchristian way; what do you mean, young gentlewoman?'

'Lord, brother, what a fool you are; every tinker knows what a kekaubi is. I was asking you what you would have for that kettle.'

'Three-and-sixpence, young gentlewoman; isn't it well mended?'

'Well mended! I could have done it better myself; three-and-sixpence! it's only fit to be played at football with.'

'I will take no less for it, young gentlewoman; it has caused me a world of trouble.'

'I never saw a worse mended kettle. I say, brother, your hair is white.'

''Tis nature; your hair is black; nature, nothing but nature.'

'I am young, brother; my hair is black—that's nature: you are young, brother; your hair is white—that's not nature.'

'I can't help it if it be not, but it is nature after all; did you never see gray hair on the young?'

'Never! I have heard it is true of a gray lad, and a bad one he was. Oh, so bad.'

'Sit down on the grass, and tell me all about it, sister; do, to oblige me, pretty sister.'

'Hey, brother, you don't speak as you did—you don't speak like a gorgio, you speak like one of us, you call me sister.'

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