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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXXI

NOVEL SITUATION—THE ELDERLY INDIVIDUAL—THE SURGEON—A KIND OFFER—CHIMERICAL IDEAS—STRANGE DREAM

How long I remained senseless I cannot say; for a considerable time I believe; at length, opening my eyes, I found myself lying on a bed in a middle-sized chamber, lighted by a candle, which stood on a table; an elderly man stood near me, and a yet more elderly female was holding a phial of very pungent salts to my olfactory organ. I attempted to move, but felt very stiff—my right arm appeared nearly paralyzed, and there was a strange dull sensation in my head. 'You had better remain still, young man,' said the elderly individual, 'the surgeon will be here presently; I have sent a message for him to the neighbouring village.' 'Where am I?' said I, 'and what has happened?' 'You are in my house,' said the old man, 'and you have been flung from a horse. I am sorry to say that I was the cause. As I was driving home, the lights in my gig frightened the animal.' 'Where is the horse?' said I. 'Below, in my stable,' said the elderly individual. 'I saw you fall, but knowing that on account of my age I could be of little use to you, I instantly hurried home; the accident did not occur more than a furlong off, and procuring the assistance of my lad, and two or three neighbouring cottagers, I returned to the spot where you were lying senseless. We raised you up, and brought you here. My lad then went in quest of the horse, who had run away as we drew nigh. When we saw him first, he was standing near you; he caught him with some difficulty, and brought him home. What are you about?' said the old man, as I strove to get off the bed. 'I want to see the horse,' said I. 'I entreat you to be still,' said the old man; 'the horse is safe, I assure you.' 'I am thinking about his knees,' said I. 'Instead of thinking about your horse's knees,' said the old man, 'be thankful that you have not broke your own neck.' 'You do not talk wisely,' said I; 'when a man's neck is broke he is provided for; but when his horse's knees are broke he is a lost jockey, that is if he has nothing but his horse to depend upon. A pretty figure I should cut at Horncastle, mounted on a horse blood-raw at the knees.' 'Oh, you are going to Horncastle,' said the old man seriously, 'then I can sympathize with you in your anxiety about your horse, being a Lincolnshire man, and the son of one who bred horses. I will myself go down into the stable and examine into the condition of your horse, so pray remain quiet till I return; it would certainly be a terrible thing to appear at Horncastle on a broken-kneed horse.'

He left the room and returned at the end of about ten minutes, followed by another person. 'Your horse is safe,' said he, 'and his knees are unblemished; not a hair ruffled. He is a fine animal, and will do credit to Horncastle; but here is the surgeon come to examine into your own condition.' The surgeon was a man about thirty-five, thin and rather tall; his face was long and pale, and his hair, which was light, was carefully combed back as much as possible from his forehead. He was dressed very neatly, and spoke in a very precise tone. 'Allow me to feel your pulse, friend?' said he, taking me by the right wrist. I uttered a cry, for at the motion which he caused a thrill of agony darted through my arm. 'I hope your arm is not broke, my friend,' said the surgeon; 'allow me to see. First of all, we must divest you of this cumbrous frock.'

The frock was removed with some difficulty, and then the upper vestments of my frame, with more difficulty still. The surgeon felt my arm, moving it up and down, causing me unspeakable pain. 'There is no fracture,' said he, at last, 'but a contusion—a violent contusion. I am told you were going to Horncastle: I am afraid you will be hardly able to ride your horse thither in time to dispose of him; however, we shall see; your arm must be bandaged, friend; after which I will bleed you, and administer a composing draught.'

To be short, the surgeon did as he proposed, and when he had administered the composing draught, he said, 'Be of good cheer; I should not be surprised if you are yet in time for Horncastle.' He then departed with the master of the house, and the woman, leaving me to my repose. I soon began to feel drowsy, and was just composing myself to slumber, lying on my back, as the surgeon had advised me, when I heard steps ascending the stairs, and in a moment more the surgeon entered again, followed by the master of the house. 'I hope we don't disturb you,' said the former; 'my reason for returning is to relieve your mind from any anxiety with respect to your horse. I am by no means sure that you will be able, owing to your accident, to reach Horncastle in time; to quiet you, however, I will buy your horse for any reasonable sum. I have been down to the stable, and approve of his figure. What do you ask for him?' 'This is a strange time of night,' said I, 'to come to me about purchasing my horse, and I am hardly in a fitting situation to be applied to about such a matter. What do you want him for?' 'For my own use,' said the surgeon; 'I am a professional man, and am obliged to be continually driving about; I cover at least one hundred and fifty miles every week.' 'He will never answer your purpose,' said I; 'he is not a driving horse, and was never between shafts in his life; he is for riding, more especially for trotting, at which he has few equals.' 'It matters not to me whether he is for riding or driving,' said the surgeon; 'sometimes I ride, sometimes drive; so if we can come to terms, I will buy him, though remember it is chiefly to remove any anxiety from your mind about him.' 'This is no time for bargaining,' said I, 'if you wish to have the horse for a hundred guineas, you may; if not—' 'A hundred guineas!' said the surgeon. 'My good friend, you must surely be light-headed; allow me to feel your pulse,' and he attempted to feel my left wrist. 'I am not light-headed,' said I, 'and I require no one to feel my pulse; but I should be light-headed if I were to sell my horse for less than I have demanded; but I have a curiosity to know what you would be willing to offer.' 'Thirty pounds,' said the surgeon, 'is all I can afford to give, and that is a great deal for a country surgeon to offer for a horse.' 'Thirty pounds,' said I, 'why he cost me nearly double that sum. To tell you the truth, I am afraid you want to take advantage of my situation.' 'Not in the least, friend,' said the surgeon—'not in the least; I only wished to set your mind at rest about your horse; but as you think he is worth more than I can afford to offer, take him to Horncastle by all means; I will do my best to cure you in time. Good night, I will see you again on the morrow.' Thereupon he once more departed with the master of the house. 'A sharp one,' I heard him say, with a laugh, as the door closed upon him.

Left to myself, I again essayed to compose myself to rest, but for some time in vain. I had been terribly shaken by my fall, and had subsequently, owing to the incision of the surgeon's lancet, been deprived of much of the vital fluid; it is when the body is in such a state that the merest trifles affect and agitate the mind; no wonder, then, that the return of the surgeon and the master of the house for the purpose of inquiring whether I would sell my horse, struck me as being highly extraordinary, considering the hour of the night, and the situation in which they knew me to be. What could they mean by such conduct—did they wish to cheat me of the animal? 'Well, well,' said I, 'if they did, what matters, they found their match; yes, yes,' said I, 'but I am in their power, perhaps'—but I instantly dismissed the apprehension which came into my mind, with a pooh, nonsense! in a little time, however, a far more foolish and chimerical idea began to disturb me—the idea of being flung from my horse? was I not disgraced for ever as a horseman by being flung from my horse? Assuredly, I thought; and the idea of being disgraced as a horseman, operating on my nervous system, caused me very acute misery. 'After all,' said I to myself, 'it was perhaps the contemptible opinion which the surgeon must have formed of my equestrian powers, which induced him to offer to take my horse off my hands; he perhaps thought I was unable to manage a horse, and therefore in pity returned in the dead of night to offer to purchase the animal which had flung me; and then the thought that the surgeon had conceived a contemptible opinion of my equestrian powers, caused me the acutest misery, and continued tormenting me until some other idea (I have forgot what it was, but doubtless equally foolish) took possession of my mind. At length, brought on by the agitation of my spirits, there came over me the same feeling of horror that I had experienced of old when I was a boy, and likewise of late within the dingle; it was, however, not so violent as it had been on those occasions, and I struggled manfully against it, until by degrees it passed away, and then I fell asleep; and in my sleep I had an ugly dream. I dreamt that I had died of the injuries I had received from my fall, and that no sooner had my soul departed from my body than it entered that of a quadruped, even my own horse in the stable—in a word, I was, to all intents and purposes, my own steed; and as I stood in the stable chewing hay (and I remember that the hay was exceedingly tough), the door opened, and the surgeon who had attended me came in. 'My good animal,' said he, 'as your late master has scarcely left enough to pay for the expenses of his funeral, and nothing to remunerate me for my trouble, I shall make bold to take possession of you. If your paces are good, I shall keep you for my own riding; if not I shall take you to Horncastle, your original destination.' He then bridled and saddled me, and, leading me out, mounted, and then trotted me up and down before the house, at the door of which the old man, who now appeared to be dressed in regular jockey fashion, was standing. 'I like his paces well,' said the surgeon; 'I think I shall take him for my own use.' 'And what am I to have for all the trouble his master caused me?' said my late entertainer, on whose countenance I now observed, for the first time, a diabolical squint. 'The consciousness of having done your duty to a fellow-creature in succouring him in a time of distress, must be your reward,' said the surgeon. 'Pretty gammon, truly,' said my late entertainer; 'what would you say if I were to talk in that way to you? Come, unless you choose to behave jonnock, {189} I shall take the bridle and lead the horse back into the stable.' 'Well,' said the surgeon, 'we are old friends, and I don't wish to dispute with you, so I'll tell you what I will do; I will ride the animal to Horncastle, and we will share what he fetches like brothers.' 'Good,' said the old man, 'but if you say that you have sold him for less than a hundred, I shan't consider you jonnock; remember what the young fellow said—that young fellow—.' I heard no more, for the next moment I found myself on a broad road leading, as I supposed, in the direction of Horncastle, the surgeon still in the saddle, and my legs moving at a rapid trot. 'Get on,' said the surgeon, jerking my mouth with the bit; whereupon, full of rage, I instantly set off at a full gallop, determined, if possible, to dash my rider to the earth. The surgeon, however, kept his seat, and, so far from attempting to abate my speed, urged me on to greater efforts with a stout stick, which methought he held in his hand. In vain did I rear and kick, attempting to get rid of my foe; but the surgeon remained as saddle-fast as ever the Maugrabin sorcerer in the Arabian tale what time he rode the young prince transformed into a steed to his enchanted palace in the wilderness. At last, as I was still madly dashing on, panting and blowing, and had almost given up all hope, I saw at a distance before me a heap of stones by the side of the road, probably placed there for the purpose of repairing it; a thought appeared to strike me—I will shy at those stones, and if I can't get rid of him so, resign myself to my fate. So I increased my speed, till arriving within about ten yards of the heap, I made a desperate start, turning half round with nearly the velocity of a millstone. Oh, the joy I experienced when I felt my enemy canted over my neck, and saw him lying senseless in the road. 'I have you now in my power,' I said, or rather neighed, as, going up to my prostrate foe, I stood over him. 'Suppose I were to rear now, and let my fore feet fall upon you, what would your life be worth? that is, supposing you are not killed already; but lie there, I will do you no farther harm, but trot to Horncastle without a rider, and when there—' and without further reflection off I trotted in the direction of Horncastle, but had not gone far before my bridle, falling from my neck, got entangled with my off fore foot. I felt myself falling, a thrill of agony shot through me—my knees would be broken, and what should I do at Horncastle with a pair of broken knees? I struggled, but I could not disengage my off fore foot, and downward I fell, but before I had reached the ground I awoke, and found myself half out of bed, my bandaged arm in considerable pain, and my left hand just touching the floor.

With some difficulty I readjusted myself in bed. It was now early morning, and the first rays of the sun were beginning to penetrate the white curtains of a window on my left, which probably looked into a garden, as I caught a glimpse or two of the leaves of trees through a small uncovered part at the side. For some time I felt uneasy and anxious, my spirits being in a strange fluttering state. At last my eyes fell upon a small row of tea-cups, seemingly of china, which stood on a mantelpiece exactly fronting the bottom of the bed. The sight of these objects, I know not why, soothed and pacified me; I kept my eyes fixed upon them, as I lay on my back on the bed, with my head upon the pillow, till at last I fell into a calm and refreshing sleep.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE MORNING AFTER A FALL—THE TEAPOT—UNPRETENDING HOSPITALITY—THE CHINESE STUDENT

It might be about eight o'clock in the morning when I was awakened by the entrance of the old man. 'How have you rested?' said he, coming up to the bedside, and looking me in the face. 'Well,' said I, 'and I feel much better, but I am still very sore.' I surveyed him now for the first time with attention. He was dressed in a sober-coloured suit, and was apparently between sixty and seventy. In stature he was rather above the middle height, but with a slight stoop, his features were placid, and expressive of much benevolence, but, as it appeared to me, with rather a melancholy cast—as I gazed upon them, I felt ashamed that I should ever have conceived in my brain a vision like that of the preceding night, in which he appeared in so disadvantageous a light. At length he said, 'It is now time for you to take some refreshment. I hear my old servant coming up with your breakfast.' In a moment the elderly female entered with a tray, on which was some bread and butter, a teapot and cup. The cup was of common blue earthenware, but the pot was of china, curiously fashioned, and seemingly of great antiquity. The old man poured me out a cupful of tea, and then, with the assistance of the woman, raised me higher, and propped me up with pillows. I ate and drank; when the pot was emptied of its liquid (it did not contain much), I raised it up with my left hand to inspect it. The sides were covered with curious characters, seemingly hieroglyphics. After surveying them for some time, I replaced it upon the tray. 'You seem fond of china,' said I to the old man, after the servant had retired with the breakfast things, and I had returned to my former posture; 'you have china on the mantelpiece, and that was a remarkable teapot out of which I have just been drinking.'

The old man fixed his eyes intently on me, and methought the expression of his countenance became yet more melancholy. 'Yes,' said he, at last, 'I am fond of china—I have reason to be fond of china—but for china I should—' and here he sighed again.

'You value it for the quaintness and singularity of its form,' said I; 'it appears to be less adapted for real use than our own pottery.'

'I care little about its form,' said the old man; 'I care for it simply on account of—However, why talk to you on a subject which can have no possible interest for you? I expect the surgeon here presently.'

'I do not like that surgeon at all,' said I. 'How strangely he behaved last night, coming back, when I was just falling asleep, to ask me if I would sell my horse.'

The old man smiled. 'He has but one failing,' said he, 'an itch for horse-dealing; but for that he might be a much richer man than he is; he is continually buying and exchanging horses, and generally finds himself a loser by his bargains: but he is a worthy creature, and skilful in his profession—it is well for you that you are under his care.'

The old man then left me, and in about an hour returned with the surgeon, who examined me and reported favourably as to my case. He spoke to me with kindness and feeling, and did not introduce the subject of the horse. I asked him whether he thought I should be in time for the fair. 'I saw some people making their way thither to-day,' said he; 'the fair lasts three weeks, and it has just commenced. Yes, I think I may promise you that you will be in time for the very heat of it. In a few days you will be able to mount your saddle with your arm in a sling, but you must by no means appear with your arm in a sling at Horncastle, as people would think your horse had flung you, and that you wanted to dispose of him because he was a vicious brute. You must, by all means, drop the sling before you get to Horncastle.'

For three days I kept my apartment by the advice of the surgeon. I passed my time as I best could. Stretched on my bed, I either abandoned myself to reflection, or listened to the voices of the birds in the neighbouring garden. Sometimes, as I lay awake at night, I would endeavour to catch the tick of a clock, which methought sounded from some distant part of the house.

The old man visited me twice or thrice every day to inquire into my state. His words were few on these occasions, and he did not stay long. Yet his voice and his words were kind. What surprised me most in connection with this individual was, the delicacy of conduct which he exhibited in not letting a word proceed from his lips which could testify curiosity respecting who I was, or whence I came. All he knew of me was, that I had been flung from my horse on my way to a fair for the purpose of disposing of the animal; and that I was now his guest. I might be a common horse-dealer for what he knew, yet I was treated by him with all the attention which I could have expected had I been an alderman of Boston's heir, and known to him as such. The county in which I am now, thought I at last, must be either extraordinarily devoted to hospitality, or this old host of mine must be an extraordinary individual. On the evening of the fourth day, feeling tired of my confinement, I put my clothes on in the best manner I could, and left the chamber. Descending a flight of stairs, I reached a kind of quadrangle, from which branched two or three passages; one of these I entered, which had a door at the farther end, and one on each side; the one to the left standing partly open, I entered it, and found myself in a middle-sized room with a large window, or rather glass-door, which looked into a garden, and which stood open. There was nothing remarkable in this room, except a large quantity of china. There was china on the mantelpiece—china on two tables, and a small beaufet, which stood opposite the glass-door, was covered with china—there were cups, teapots, and vases of various forms, and on all of them I observed characters—not a teapot, not a teacup, not a vase of whatever form or size, but appeared to possess hieroglyphics on some part or other. After surveying these articles for some time with no little interest, I passed into the garden, in which there were small parterres of flowers, and two or three trees, and which, where the house did not abut, was bounded by a wall. Turning to the right by a walk by the side of the house, I passed by a door—probably the one I had seen at the end of the passage—and arrived at another window similar to that through which I had come, and which also stood open. I was about to pass by it, when I heard the voice of my entertainer exclaiming, 'Is that you? Pray come in.'

I entered the room, which seemed to be a counterpart of the one which I had just left. It was of the same size, had the same kind of furniture, and appeared to be equally well stocked with china; one prominent article it possessed, however, which the other room did not exhibit—namely, a clock, which, with its pendulum moving tick-a-tick, hung against the wall opposite to the door, the sight of which made me conclude that the sound which methought I had heard in the stillness of the night was not an imaginary one. There it hung on the wall, with its pendulum moving tick-a-tick. The old gentleman was seated in an easy chair a little way into the room, having the glass door on his right hand. On a table before him lay a large open volume, in which I observed Roman letters as well as characters. A few inches beyond the book on the table, covered all over with hieroglyphics, stood a china vase. The eyes of the old man were fixed upon it.

'Sit down,' said he, motioning me with his hand to a stool close by, but without taking his eyes from the vase. 'I can't make it out,' said he, at last, removing his eyes from the vase, and leaning back on the chair—'I can't make it out.'

'I wish I could assist you,' said I.

'Assist me,' said the old man, looking at me, with a half smile.

'Yes,' said I, 'but I don't understand Chinese.'

'I suppose not,' said the old man, with another slight smile; 'but—but—'

'Pray proceed,' said I.

'I wished to ask you,' said the old man, 'how you knew that the characters on yon piece of crockery were Chinese; or, indeed, that there was such a language?'

'I knew the crockery was china,' said I, 'and naturally enough supposed what was written upon it to be Chinese; as for there being such a language—the English have a language, the French have a language, and why not the Chinese?'

'May I ask you a question?'

'As many as you like.'

'Do you know any language besides English?'

'Yes,' said I, 'I know a little of two or three.'

'May I ask their names?'

'Why not?' said I. 'I know a little French.'

'Anything else?'

'Yes, a little Welsh, and a little Haik.'

'What is Haik?'

'Armenian.'

'I am glad to see you in my house,' said the old man, shaking me by the hand; 'how singular that one coming as you did should know Armenian!'

'Not more singular,' said I, 'than that one living in such a place as this should know Chinese. How came you to acquire it?'

The old man looked at me, and sighed. 'I beg pardon,' said I, 'for asking what is, perhaps, an impertinent question; I have not imitated your own delicacy; you have never asked me a question without first desiring permission, and here I have been days and nights in your house an intruder on your hospitality, and you have never so much as asked me who I am.'

'In forbearing to do that,' said the old man, 'I merely obeyed the Chinese precept: "Ask no questions of a guest;" it is written on both sides of the teapot out of which you have had your tea.'

'I wish I knew Chinese,' said I. 'Is it a difficult language to acquire?'

'I have reason to think so,' said the old man. 'I have been occupied upon it five-and-thirty years, and I am still very imperfectly acquainted with it; at least, I frequently find upon my crockery sentences the meaning of which to me is very dark, though it is true these sentences are mostly verses, which are, of course, more difficult to understand than mere prose.'

'Are your Chinese studies,' said I, 'confined to crockery literature?'

'Entirely,' said the old man; 'I read nothing else.'

'I have heard,' said I, 'that the Chinese have no letters, but that for every word they have a separate character—is it so?'

'For every word they have a particular character,' said the old man; 'though, to prevent confusion, they have arranged their words under two hundred and fourteen what we should call radicals, but which they call keys. As we arrange all our words in a dictionary under twenty-four letters, so do they arrange all their words, or characters, under two hundred and fourteen radical signs; the simplest radicals being the first and the more complex the last.'

'Does the Chinese resemble any of the European languages in words?' said I.

'I am scarcely competent to inform you,' said the old man; 'but I believe not.'

'What does that character represent?' said I, pointing to one on the vase.

'A knife,' said the old man; 'that character is one of the simplest radicals or keys.'

'And what is the sound of it?' said I.

'Tau,' said the old man.

'Tau!' said I—'tau!'

'A strange word for a knife! is it not?' said the old man.

'Tawse!' said I—'tawse!'

'What is tawse?' said the old man.

'You were never at school at Edinburgh, I suppose?'

'Never,' said the old man.

'That accounts for your not knowing the meaning of tawse,' said I; 'had you received the rudiments of a classical education at the High School, you would have known the meaning of tawse full well. It is a leathern thong, with which refractory urchins are recalled to a sense of their duty by the dominie. Tau—tawse—how singular!'

'I cannot see what the two words have in common, except a slight agreement in sound.'

'You will see the connection,' said I, 'when I inform you that the thong, from the middle to the bottom, is cut or slit into two or three parts, from which slits or cuts, unless I am very much mistaken, it derives its name—tawse, a thong with slits or cuts, used for chastising disorderly urchins at the High School, from the French tailler, to cut; evidently connected with the Chinese tau, a knife—how very extraordinary!'



CHAPTER XXXIII

CONVALESCENCE—THE SURGEON'S BILL—LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION—COMMENCEMENT OF THE OLD MAN'S HISTORY

Two days—three days passed away—and I still remained at the house of my hospitable entertainer: my bruised limb rapidly recovering the power of performing its functions. I passed my time agreeably enough, sometimes in my chamber, communing with my own thoughts; sometimes in the stable, attending to, and not unfrequently conversing with, my horse; and at mealtime—for I seldom saw him at any other—discoursing with the old gentleman, sometimes on the Chinese vocabulary, sometimes on Chinese syntax, and once or twice on English horseflesh; though on this latter subject, notwithstanding his descent from a race of horse traders, he did not enter with much alacrity. As a small requital for his kindness, I gave him one day, after dinner, unasked, a brief account of my history and pursuits. He listened with attention; and when it was concluded, thanked me for the confidence which I had reposed in him. 'Such conduct,' said he, 'deserves a return. I will tell you my own history: it is brief, but may perhaps not prove uninteresting to you—though the relation of it will give me some pain.' 'Pray, then, do not recite it,' said I. 'Yes,' said the old man, 'I will tell you, for I wish you to know it.' He was about to begin when he was interrupted by the arrival of the surgeon. The surgeon examined into the state of my bruised limb, and told me, what indeed I already well knew, that it was rapidly improving. 'You will not even require a sling,' said he, 'to ride to Horncastle. When do you propose going?' he demanded. 'When do you think I may venture?' I replied. 'I think, if you are a tolerably good horseman, you may mount the day after to-morrow,' answered the medical man. 'By-the-by, are you acquainted with anybody at Horncastle?' 'With no living soul,' I answered. 'Then you would scarcely find stable room for your horse. But I am happy to be able to assist you. I have a friend there who keeps a small inn, and who, during the time of the fair, keeps a stall vacant for any quadruped I may bring, until he knows whether I am coming or not. I will give you a letter to him, and he will see after the accommodation of your horse. To-morrow I will pay you a farewell visit, and bring you the letter.' 'Thank you,' said I; 'and do not forget to bring your bill.' The surgeon looked at the old man, who gave him a peculiar nod. 'Oh!' said he, in reply to me, 'for the little service I have rendered you I require no remuneration. You are in my friend's house, and he and I understand each other.' 'I never receive such favours,' said I, 'as you have rendered me, without remunerating them; therefore I shall expect your bill.' 'Oh! just as you please,' said the surgeon; and, shaking me by the hand more warmly than he had hitherto done, he took his leave.

On the evening of the next day, the last which I spent with my kind entertainer, I sat at tea with him in a little summer-house in his garden, partially shaded by the boughs of a large fig-tree. The surgeon had shortly before paid me his farewell visit, and had brought me the letter of introduction to his friend at Horncastle, and also his bill, which I found anything but extravagant. After we had each respectively drank the contents of two cups—and it may not be amiss here to inform the reader that though I took cream with my tea, as I always do when I can procure that addition, the old man, like most people bred up in the country drank his without it—he thus addressed me: 'I am, as I told you on the night of your accident, the son of a breeder of horses, a respectable and honest man. When I was about twenty he died, leaving me, his only child, a comfortable property, consisting of about two hundred acres of land and some fifteen hundred pounds in money. My mother had died about three years previously. I felt the death of my mother keenly, but that of my father less than was my duty; indeed, truth compels me to acknowledge that I scarcely regretted his death. The cause of this want of proper filial feeling was the opposition which I had experienced from him in an affair which deeply concerned me. I had formed an attachment for a young female in the neighbourhood, who, though poor, was of highly respectable birth, her father having been a curate of the Established Church. She was, at the time of which I am speaking, an orphan, having lost both her parents, and supported herself by keeping a small school. My attachment was returned, and we had pledged our vows, but my father, who could not reconcile himself to her lack of fortune, forbade our marriage in the most positive terms. He was wrong, for she was a fortune in herself—amiable and accomplished. Oh! I cannot tell you all she was'—and here the old man drew his hand across his eyes. 'By the death of my father, the only obstacle to our happiness appeared to be removed. We agreed, therefore, that our marriage should take place within the course of a year; and I forthwith commenced enlarging my house and getting my affairs in order. Having been left in the easy circumstances which I have described, I determined to follow no business, but to pass my life in a strictly domestic manner, and to be very, very happy. Amongst other property derived from my father were several horses, which I disposed of in this neighbourhood, with the exception of two remarkably fine ones, which I determined to take to the next fair at Horncastle, the only place where I expected to be able to obtain what I considered to be their full value. At length the time arrived for the commencement of the fair, which was within three months of the period which my beloved and myself had fixed upon for the celebration of our nuptials. To the fair I went, a couple of trusty men following me with the horses. I soon found a purchaser for the animals, a portly, plausible person {199} of about forty, dressed in a blue riding coat, brown top boots, and leather breeches. There was a strange-looking urchin with him, attired in nearly similar fashion, with a beam in one of his eyes, who called him father. The man paid me for the purchase in bank-notes—three fifty-pound notes for the two horses. As we were about to take leave of each other, he suddenly produced another fifty-pound note, inquiring whether I could change it, complaining at the same time of the difficulty of procuring change in the fair. As I happened to have plenty of small money in my possession, and as I felt obliged to him for having purchased my horses at what I considered to be a good price, I informed him that I should be very happy to accommodate him; so I changed him the note, and he, having taken possession of the horses, went his way, and I myself returned home.

'A month passed; during this time I paid away two of the notes which I had received at Horncastle from the dealer—one of them in my immediate neighbourhood, and the other at a town about fifteen miles distant, to which I had repaired for the purpose of purchasing some furniture. All things seemed to be going on most prosperously, and I felt quite happy, when one morning, as I was overlooking some workmen who were employed about my house, I was accosted by a constable, who informed me that he was sent to request my immediate appearance before a neighbouring bench of magistrates. Concluding that I was merely summoned on some unimportant business connected with the neighbourhood, I felt no surprise, and forthwith departed in company with the officer. The demeanour of the man upon the way struck me as somewhat singular. I had frequently spoken to him before, and had always found him civil and respectful, but he was now reserved and sullen, and replied to two or three questions which I put to him in anything but a courteous manner. On arriving at the place where the magistrates were sitting—an inn at a small town about two miles distant—I found a more than usual number of people assembled, who appeared to be conversing with considerable eagerness. At sight of me they became silent, but crowded after me as I followed the man into the magistrates' room. There I found the tradesman to whom I had paid the note for the furniture, at the town fifteen miles off, in attendance, accompanied by an agent of the Bank of England; the former, it seems, had paid the note into a provincial bank, the proprietors of which, discovering it to be a forgery, had forthwith written up to the Bank of England, who had sent down their agent to investigate the matter. A third individual stood beside them—the person in my own immediate neighbourhood to whom I had paid the second note; this, by some means or other, before the coming down of the agent, had found its way to the same provincial bank, and also being pronounced a forgery, it had speedily been traced to the person to whom I had paid it. It was owing to the apparition of this second note that the agent had determined, without further inquiry, to cause me to be summoned before the rural tribunal.

'In a few words the magistrates' clerk gave me to understand the state of the case. I was filled with surprise and consternation. I knew myself to be perfectly innocent of any fraudulent intention, but at the time of which I am speaking it was a matter fraught with the greatest danger to be mixed up, however innocently, with the passing of false money. The law with respect to forgery was terribly severe, and the innocent as well as the guily occasionally suffered. Of this I was not altogether ignorant; unfortunately, however, in my transactions with the stranger, the idea of false notes being offered to me, and my being brought into trouble by means of them, never entered my mind. Recovering myself a little, I stated that the notes in question were two of three notes which I had received at Horncastle, for a pair of horses, which it was well known I had carried thither.

'Thereupon, I produced from my pocket-book the third note, which was forthwith pronounced a forgery. I had scarcely produced the third note, when I remembered the one which I had changed for the Horncastle dealer, and with the remembrance came the almost certain conviction that it was also a forgery; I was tempted for a moment to produce it, and to explain the circumstances—would to God I had done so!—but shame at the idea of having been so wretchedly duped prevented me, and the opportunity was lost. I must confess that the agent of the bank behaved, upon the whole, in a very handsome manner; he said that as it was quite evident that I had disposed of certain horses at the fair, it was very possible that I might have received the notes in question in exchange for them, and that he was willing, as he had received a very excellent account of my general conduct, to press the matter no farther—that is, provided—. And here he stopped. Thereupon, one of the three magistrates, who were present, asked me whether I chanced to have any more of these spurious notes in my possession. He had certainly a right to ask the question, but there was something peculiar in his tone—insinuating suspicion. It is certainly difficult to judge of the motives which rule a person's conduct, but I cannot help imagining that he was somewhat influenced in his behaviour on that occasion, which was anything but friendly, by my having refused to sell him the horses at a price less than that which I expected to get at the fair; be this as it may, the question filled me with embarrassment, and I bitterly repented not having at first been more explicit. Thereupon the magistrate, in the same kind of tone, demanded to see my pocket-book. I knew that to demur would be useless, and produced it, and forthwith amongst two or three small country notes, appeared the fourth which I had received from the Horncastle dealer. The agent, took it up and examined it with attention. "Well, is it a genuine note," said the magistrate? "I am sorry to say that it is not," said the agent; "it is a forgery, like the other three." The magistrate shrugged his shoulders, as indeed did several people in the room. "A regular dealer in forged notes," said a person close behind me; "who would have thought it?"

'Seeing matters begin to look so serious, I aroused myself, and endeavoured to speak in my own behalf, giving a candid account of the manner in which I became possessed of the notes; but my explanation did not appear to meet much credit: the magistrate, to whom I have in particular alluded, asked, why I had not at once stated the fact of my having received a fourth note; and the agent, though in a very quiet tone, observed that he could not help thinking it somewhat strange that I should have changed a note of so much value for a perfect stranger, even supposing that he had purchased my horses, and had paid me their value in hard cash; and I noticed that he laid a particular emphasis on the last words. I might have observed that I was an inexperienced young man, who meaning no harm myself, suspected none in others, but I was confused, stunned, and my tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of my mouth. The men who had taken my horses to Horncastle, and for whom I had sent, as they lived close at hand, now arrived, but the evidence which they could give was anything but conclusive in my favour; they had seen me in company with an individual at Horncastle, to whom by my orders they had delivered certain horses, but they had seen no part of the money transaction; the fellow, whether from design or not, having taken me aside into a retired place, where he had paid me the three spurious notes, and induced me to change the fourth, which throughout the affair was what bore most materially against me. How matters might have terminated I do not know, I might have been committed to prison, and I might have been—. Just then, when I most needed a friend, and least expected to find one, for though amongst those present there were several who were my neighbours, and who had professed friendship for me, none of them when they saw that I needed support and encouragement came forward to yield me any, but, on the contrary, appeared by their looks to enjoy my terror and confusion—just then a friend entered the room in the person of the surgeon of the neighbourhood, the father of him who has attended you; he was not on very intimate terms with me, but he had occasionally spoken to me, and had attended my father in his dying illness, and chancing to hear that I was in trouble, he now hastened to assist me. After a short preamble, in which he apologized to the bench for interfering, he begged to be informed of the state of the case, whereupon the matter was laid before him in all its details. He was not slow in taking a fair view of it, and spoke well and eloquently in my behalf—insisting on the improbability that a person of my habits and position would be wilfully mixed up with a transaction like that of which it appeared I was suspected—adding, that as he was fully convinced of my innocence, he was ready to enter into any surety with respect to my appearance at any time to answer anything which might be laid to my charge. This last observation had particular effect, and as he was a person universally respected, both for his skill in his profession and his general demeanour, people began to think that a person in whom he took an interest could scarcely be concerned in anything criminal, and though my friend the magistrate—I call him so ironically—made two or three demurs, it was at last agreed between him and his brethren of the bench, that, for the present, I should be merely called upon to enter into my own recognizance for the sum of two hundred pounds, to appear whenever it should be deemed requisite to enter into any farther investigation of the matter.

'So I was permitted to depart from the tribunal of petty justice without handcuffs, and uncollared by a constable; but people looked coldly and suspiciously upon me. The first thing I did was to hasten to the house of my beloved, in order to inform her of every circumstance attending the transaction. I found her, but how? A malicious female individual had hurried to her with a distorted tale, to the effect that I had been taken up as an utterer of forged notes; that an immense number had been found in my possession; that I was already committed, and that probably I should be executed. My affianced one tenderly loved me, and her constitution was delicate; fit succeeded fit, she broke a blood-vessel, and I found her deluged in blood; the surgeon had just been sent for; he came and afforded her every possible relief. I was distracted; he bade me have hope, but I observed he looked very grave.

'By the skill of the surgeon, the poor girl was saved in the first instance from the arms of death, and for a few weeks she appeared to be rapidly recovering; by degrees, however, she became melancholy; a worm preyed upon her spirit; a slow fever took possession of her frame. I subsequently learned that the same malicious female, who had first carried to her an exaggerated account of the affair, and who was a distant relative of her own, frequently visited her, and did all in her power to excite her fears with respect to its eventual termination. Time passed on in a very wretched manner. Our friend the surgeon showing to us both every mark of kindness and attention.

'It was owing to this excellent man that my innocence was eventually established. Having been called to a town on the borders of Yorkshire to a medical consultation, he chanced to be taking a glass of wine with the landlord of the inn at which he stopped, when the waiter brought in a note to be changed, saying, "That the Quaker gentleman who had been for some days in the house, and was about to depart, had sent it to be changed, in order that he might pay his bill." The landlord took the note and looked at it. "A fifty-pound bill," said he; "I don't like changing bills of that amount, lest they should prove bad ones; however, as it comes from a Quaker gentleman, I suppose it is all right." The mention of a fifty-pound note aroused the attention of my friend, and he requested to be permitted to look at it; he had scarcely seen it, when he was convinced that it was one of the same description as those which had brought me into trouble, as it corresponded with them in two particular features, which the agent of the bank had pointed out to him and others as evidence of their spuriousness. My friend, without a moment's hesitation, informed the landlord that the note was a bad one, expressing at the time a great wish to see the Quaker gentleman who wanted to have it changed. "That you can easily do," said the landlord, and forthwith conducted him into the common room, where he saw a respectable-looking man, dressed like a Quaker, and seemingly about sixty years of age.

'My friend, after a short apology, showed him the note which he held in his hand, stating that he had no doubt it was a spurious one, and begged to be informed where he had taken it, adding, that a particular friend of his was at present in trouble, owing to his having taken similar notes from a stranger at Horncastle; but that he hoped that he, the Quaker, could give information, by means of which the guilty party, or parties, could be arrested. At the mention of Horncastle, it appeared to my friend that the Quaker gave a slight start. At the conclusion of this speech, however, he answered, with great tranquillity, that he had received it in the way of business at —-, naming one of the principal towns in Yorkshire, from a very respectable person, whose name he was perfectly willing to communicate, and likewise his own, which he said was James, and that he was a merchant residing at Liverpool; that he would write to his friend at —-, requesting him to make inquiries on the subject; that just at that moment he was in a hurry to depart, having some particular business at a town about ten miles off, to go to which he had bespoken a post-chaise of the landlord; that with respect to the note, it was doubtless a very disagreeable thing to have a suspicious one in his possession, but that it would make little difference to him, as he had plenty of other money, and thereupon he pulled out a purse, containing various other notes, and some gold, observing, "that his only motive for wishing to change the other note was a desire to be well provided with change;" and finally, that if they had any suspicion with respect to him, he was perfectly willing to leave the note in their possession till he should return, which he intended to do in about a fortnight. There was so much plausibility in the speech of the Quaker, and his appearance and behaviour were so perfectly respectable, that my friend felt almost ashamed of the suspicion which at first he had entertained of him, though, at the same time, he felt an unaccountable unwillingness to let the man depart without some farther interrogation. The landlord, however, who did not wish to disoblige one who had been, and might probably be again, a profitable customer, declared that he was perfectly satisfied; that he had no wish to detain the note, which he made no doubt the gentleman had received in the way of business, and that as the matter concerned him alone, he would leave it to him to make the necessary inquiries. "Just as you please, friend," said the Quaker, pocketing the suspicious note, "I will now pay my bill." Thereupon he discharged the bill with a five-pound note, which he begged the landlord to inspect carefully, and with two pieces of gold.

'The landlord had just taken the money, receipted the bill, and was bowing to his customer, when the door opened, and a lad, dressed in a kind of grey livery, appeared, and informed the Quaker that the chaise was ready. "Is that boy your servant?" asked the surgeon. "He is, friend," said the Quaker. "Hast thou any reason for asking me that question?" "And has he been long in your service?" "Several years," replied the Quaker. "I took him into my house out of compassion, he being an orphan, but as the chaise is waiting, I will bid thee farewell." "I am afraid I must stop your journey for the present," said the surgeon; "that boy has exactly the same blemish in the eye which a boy had who was in company with the man at Horncastle, from whom my friend received the forged notes, and who there passed for his son." "I know nothing about that," said the Quaker, "but I am determined to be detained here no longer, after the satisfactory account which I have given as to the note's coming into my possession." He then attempted to leave the room, but my friend detained him, a struggle ensued, during which a wig which the Quaker wore fell off, whereupon he instantly appeared to lose some twenty years of his age. "Knock the fellow down, father," said the boy, "I'll help you."

'And, forsooth, the pretended Quaker took the boy's advice, and knocked my friend down in a twinkling. The landlord, however, and waiter, seeing how matters stood, instantly laid hold of him; but there can be no doubt that he would have escaped from the whole three had not certain guests who were in the house, hearing the noise, rushed in, and helped to secure him. The boy was true to his word, assisting him to the best of his ability, flinging himself between the legs of his father's assailants, causing several of them to stumble and fall. At length, the fellow was secured, and led before a magistrate; the boy, to whom he was heard to say something which nobody understood, and to whom, after the man's capture, no one paid much attention, was no more seen.

'The rest, as far as this man was concerned, may be told in a few words; nothing to criminate him was found on his person, but on his baggage being examined, a quantity of spurious notes were discovered. Much of his hardihood now forsook him, and in the hope of saving his life he made some very important disclosures; amongst other things, he confessed that it was he who had given me the notes in exchange for the horses, and also the note to be changed. He was subsequently tried on two indictments, in the second of which I appeared against him. He was condemned to die; but, in consideration of the disclosures he had made, his sentence was commuted to perpetual transportation.

'My innocence was thus perfectly established before the eyes of the world, and all my friends hastened to congratulate me. There was one who congratulated me more than all the rest—it was my beloved one, but—but—she was dying—'

Here the old man drew his hand before his eyes and remained for some time without speaking; at length he removed his hand, and commenced again with a broken voice: 'You will pardon me if I hurry over this part of my story; I am unable to dwell upon it. How dwell upon a period when I saw my only earthly treasure pine away gradually day by day, and knew that nothing could save her! She saw my agony, and did all she could to console me, saying that she was herself quite resigned. A little time before her death she expressed a wish that we should be united. I was too happy to comply with her request. We were united, I brought her to this house, where, in less than a week, she expired in my arms.'



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE OLD MAN'S STORY CONTINUED—MISERY IN THE HEAD—THE STRANGE MARKS—TEA-DEALER FROM LONDON—DIFFICULTIES OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE

After another pause the old man once more resumed his narration: 'If ever there was a man perfectly miserable it was myself, after the loss of that cherished woman. I sat solitary in the house, in which I had hoped in her company to realize the choicest earthly happiness, a prey to the bitterest reflections; many people visited and endeavoured to console me—amongst them was the clergyman of the parish, who begged me to be resigned, and told me that it was good to be afflicted. I bowed my head, but I could not help thinking how easy it must be for those who feel no affliction, to bid others to be resigned, and to talk of the benefit resulting from sorrow; perhaps I should have paid more attention to his discourse than I did, provided he had been a person for whom it was possible to entertain much respect, but his own heart was known to be set on the things of this world.

'Within a little time he had an opportunity, in his own case, of practising resignation, and of realizing the benefit of being afflicted. A merchant, to whom he had entrusted all his fortune, in the hope of a large interest, became suddenly a bankrupt, with scarcely any assets. I will not say that it was owing to this misfortune that the divine died within less than a month after its occurrence, but such was the fact. Amongst those who most frequently visited me was my friend the surgeon; he did not confine himself to the common topics of consolation, but endeavoured to impress upon me the necessity of rousing myself, advising me to occupy my mind with some pursuit, particularly recommending agriculture; but agriculture possessed no interest for me, nor, indeed, any pursuit within my reach; my hopes of happiness had been blighted, and what cared I for anything; so at last he thought it best to leave me to myself, hoping that time would bring with it consolation; and I remained solitary in my house, waited upon by a male and a female servant. Oh, what dreary moments I passed! My only amusement—and it was a sad one—was to look at the things which once belonged to my beloved, and which were now in my possession. Oh, how fondly would I dwell upon them! There were some books; I cared not for books, but these had belonged to my beloved. Oh, how fondly did I dwell on them! Then there was her hat and bonnet—oh, me, how fondly did I gaze upon them! and after looking at her things for hours, I would sit and ruminate on the happiness I had lost. How I execrated the moment I had gone to the fair to sell horses! "Would that I had never been at Horncastle to sell horses!" I would say; "I might at this moment have been enjoying the company of my beloved, leading a happy, quiet, easy life, but for that fatal expedition." That thought worked on my brain, till my brain seemed to turn round.

'One day I sat at the breakfast table gazing vacantly around me, my mind was in a state of inexpressible misery; there was a whirl in my brain, probably like that which people feel who are rapidly going mad; this increased to such a degree that I felt giddiness coming upon me. To abate this feeling I no longer permitted my eyes to wander about, but fixed them upon an object on the table, and continued gazing at it for several minutes without knowing what it was. At length the misery in my head was somewhat stilled, my lips moved, and I heard myself saying, "What odd marks!" I had fastened my eyes on the side of a teapot, and by keeping them fixed upon it, had become aware of a fact that had escaped my notice before—namely, that there were marks upon it. I kept my eyes fixed upon them, and repeated at intervals, "What strange marks!"—for I thought that looking upon the marks tended to abate the whirl in my head. I kept tracing the marks one after the other, and I observed that though they all bore a resemblance to each other, they were all to a certain extent different. The smallest portion possible of curious interest had been awakened within me, and, at last, I asked myself within my own mind, "What motive could induce people to put such odd marks on their crockery? They were not pictures, they were not letters. What motive could people have for putting them there?" At last I removed my eyes from the teapot, and thought for a few moments about the marks; presently, however, I felt the whirl returning; the marks became almost effaced from my mind, and I was beginning to revert to my miserable ruminations, when suddenly methought I heard a voice say, "The marks! the marks! cling to the marks! or—" So I fixed my eyes again upon the marks, inspecting them more attentively, if possible, than I had done before, and, at last, I came to the conclusion that they were not capricious or fanciful marks, but were arranged systematically. When I had gazed at them for a considerable time I turned the teapot round, and on the other side I observed marks of a similar kind, which I soon discovered were identical with the ones I had been observing. All the marks were something alike, but all somewhat different, and on comparing them with each other, I was struck with the frequent occurrence of a mark crossing an upright line, or projecting from it, now on the right, now on the left side, and I said to myself, "Why does this mark sometimes cross the upright line, and sometimes project?" and the more I thought on the matter the less did I feel of the misery in my head.

'The things were at length removed, and I sat, as I had for some time past been wont to sit after my meals, silent and motionless; but in the present instance my mind was not entirely abandoned to the one mournful idea which had so long distressed it. It was, to a certain extent, occupied with the marks on the teapot; it is true that the mournful idea strove hard with the marks on the teapot for the mastery in my mind, and at last the painful idea drove the marks of the teapot out. They, however, would occasionally return and flit across my mind for a moment or two, and their coming was like a momentary relief from intense pain. I thought once or twice that I would have the teapot placed before me, that I might examine the marks at leisure, but I considered that it would be as well to defer the re-examination of the marks till the next morning. At that time I did not take tea of an evening. By deferring the examination thus, I had something to look forward to on the next morning. The day was a melancholy one, but it certainly was more tolerable to me than any of the others had been since the death of my beloved. As I lay awake that night I occasionally thought of the marks, and in my sleep methought I saw them upon the teapot vividly before me. On the morrow I examined the marks again. How singular they looked! Surely they must mean something, and if so, what could they mean? and at last I thought within myself whether it would be possible for me to make out what they meant. That day I felt more relief than on the preceding day, and towards night I walked a little about.

'In about a week's time I received a visit from my friend the surgeon. After a little discourse, he told me that he perceived I was better than when he had last seen me, and asked me what I had been about. I told him that I had been principally occupied in considering certain marks which I had found on a teapot, and wondering what they could mean. He smiled at first, but instantly assuming a serious look, he asked to see the teapot. I produced it, and after having surveyed the marks with attention, he observed that they were highly curious, and also wondered what they meant. "I strongly advise you," said he, "to attempt to make them out, and also to take moderate exercise, and to see after your concerns." I followed his advice. Every morning I studied the marks on the teapot, and in the course of the day took moderate exercise, and attended to little domestic matters, as became the master of a house.

'I subsequently learned that the surgeon, in advising me to study the marks, and endeavour to make out their meaning, merely hoped that by means of them my mind might by degrees be diverted from the mournful idea on which it had so long brooded. He was a man well skilled in his profession, but had read and thought very little on matters unconnected with it. He had no idea that the marks had any particular signification, or were anything else but common and fortuitous ones. That I became at all acquainted with their nature was owing to a ludicrous circumstance which I will now relate.

'One day, chancing to be at a neighbouring town, I was struck with the appearance of a shop recently established. It had an immense bow-window, and every part of it to which a brush could be applied was painted in a gaudy flaming style. Large bowls of green and black tea were placed upon certain chests, which stood at the window. I stopped to look at them; such a display, whatever it may be at the present time, being, at the period of which I am speaking, quite uncommon in a country town. The tea, whether black or green, was very shining and inviting, and the bowls, of which there were three, standing on as many chests, were very grand and foreign-looking. Two of these were white, with figures and trees painted upon them in blue; the other, which was the middlemost, had neither trees nor figures upon it, but, as I looked through the window, appeared to have on its sides the very same kind of marks which I had observed on the teapot at home; there were also marks on the tea-chests somewhat similar, but much larger, and, apparently, not executed with so much care. "Best teas direct from China," said a voice close to my side, and looking round I saw a youngish man with a frizzled head, flat face, and an immensely wide mouth, standing in his shirt-sleeves by the door. "Direct from China," said he. "Perhaps you will do me the favour to walk in and scent them?" "I do not want any tea," said I; "I was only standing at the window examining those marks on the bowl and the chests. I have observed similar ones on a teapot at home." "Pray walk in, sir," said the young fellow, extending his mouth till it reached nearly from ear to ear—"pray walk in, and I shall be happy to give you any information respecting the manners and customs of the Chinese in my power." Thereupon I followed him into his shop, where he began to harangue on the manners, customs, and peculiarities of the Chinese, especially their manner of preparing tea, not forgetting to tell me that the only genuine Chinese tea ever imported into England was to be found in his shop. "With respect to those marks," said he, "on the bowl and the chests, they are nothing more nor less than Chinese writing expressing something, though what I can't exactly tell you. Allow me to sell you this pound of tea," he added, showing me a paper parcel. "On the envelope there is a printed account of the Chinese system of writing, extracted from authors of the most established reputation. These things I print, principally with the hope of in some degree removing the worse than Gothic ignorance prevalent amongst the natives of these parts. I am from London myself. With respect to all that relates to the Chinese real Imperial tea, I assure you, sir, that—" Well, to make short of what you doubtless consider a very tiresome story, I purchased the tea and carried it home. The tea proved imperially bad, but the paper envelope really contained some information on the Chinese language and writing, amounting to about as much as you gained from me the other day. On learning that the marks on the teapot expressed words, I felt my interest with respect to them considerably increased, and returned to the task of inspecting them with greater zeal than before, hoping, by continually looking at them, to be able eventually to understand their meaning, in which hope you may easily believe I was disappointed, though my desire to understand what they represented continued on the increase. In this dilemma I determined to apply again to the shopkeeper from whom I bought the tea. I found him in rather low spirits, his shirt-sleeves were soiled, and his hair was out of curl. On my inquiring how he got on, he informed me that he intended speedily to leave, having received little or no encouragement, the people in their Gothic ignorance preferring to deal with an old-fashioned shopkeeper over the way, who, so far from possessing any acquaintance with the polity and institutions of the Chinese, did not, he firmly believed, know that tea came from China. "You are come for some more, I suppose?" said he. On receiving an answer in the negative he looked somewhat blank, but when I added that I came to consult with him as to the means which I must take in order to acquire the Chinese language he brightened up. "You must get a grammar," said he, rubbing his hands. "Have you not one?" said I. "No," he replied, "but any bookseller can procure you one." As I was taking my departure he told me that as he was about to leave the neighbourhood the bowl at the window which bore the inscription, besides some other pieces of porcelain of a similar description, were at my service, provided I chose to purchase them. I consented, and two or three days afterwards took from off his hands all the china in his possession which bore inscriptions, paying what he demanded. Had I waited till the sale of his effects, which occurred within a few weeks, I could probably have procured it for a fifth part of the sum which I paid, the other pieces realizing very little. I did not, however, grudge the poor fellow what he got from me, as I considered myself to be somewhat in his debt for the information he had afforded me.

'As for the rest of my story, it may be briefly told. I followed the advice of the shopkeeper and applied to a bookseller, who wrote to his correspondent in London. After a long interval, I was informed that if I wished to learn Chinese I must do so through the medium of French, there being neither Chinese grammar nor dictionary in our language. I was at first very much disheartened. I determined, however, at last to gratify my desire of learning Chinese, even at the expense of learning French. I procured the books, and in order to qualify myself to turn them to account, took lessons in French from a little Swiss, the usher of a neighbouring boarding-school. I was very stupid in acquiring French; perseverance, however, enabled me to acquire a knowledge sufficient for the object I had in view. In about two years I began to study Chinese by myself through the medium of the French.'

'Well,' said I, 'and how did you get on with the study of Chinese?'

And then the old man proceeded to inform me how he got on with the study of Chinese, enumerating all the difficulties he had had to encounter, dilating upon his frequent despondency of mind, and occasionally his utter despair of ever mastering Chinese. He told me that more than once he had determined upon giving up the study, but then the misery in his head forthwith returned, to escape from which he had as often resumed it. It appeared, however, that ten years elapsed before he was able to use ten of the two hundred and fourteen keys which serve to undo the locks of Chinese writing.

'And are you able at present to use the entire number?' I demanded.

'Yes,' said the old man; 'I can at present use the whole number. I know the key for every particular lock, though I frequently find the words unwilling to give way.'

'Has nothing particular occurred to you,' said I, 'during the time that you have been prosecuting your studies?'

'During the whole time in which I have been engaged in these studies,' said the old man, 'only one circumstance has occurred which requires any particular mention—the death of my old friend the surgeon, who was carried off suddenly by a fit of apoplexy. His death was a great shock to me, and for a time interrupted my studies. His son, however, who succeeded him, was very kind to me, and, in some degree, supplied his father's place; and I gradually returned to my Chinese locks and keys.'

'And in applying keys to the Chinese locks you employ your time?'

'Yes,' said the old man, 'in making out the inscriptions on the various pieces of porcelain, which I have at different times procured, I pass my time. The first inscription which I translated was that on the teapot of my beloved.'

'And how many other pieces of porcelain may you have at present in your possession?'

'About fifteen hundred.'

'And how did you obtain them?' I demanded.

'Without much labour,' said the old man, 'in the neighbouring towns and villages—chiefly at auctions—of which, about twenty years ago, there were many in these parts.'

'And may I ask your reasons for confining your studies entirely to the crockery literature of China, when you have all the rest at your disposal?'

'The inscriptions enable me to pass my time,' said the old man; 'what more would the whole literature of China do?'

'And from those inscriptions,' said I, 'what a book it is in your power to make, whenever so disposed! "Translations from the crockery literature of China." Such a book would be sure to take. Even glorious John himself would not disdain to publish it.'

The old man smiled. 'I have no desire for literary distinction,' said he; 'no ambition. My original wish was to pass my life in easy, quiet obscurity—with her whom I loved. I was disappointed in my wish; she was removed, who constituted my only felicity in this life: desolation came to my heart, and misery to my head. To escape from the latter I had recourse to Chinese. By degrees the misery left my head, but the desolation of heart yet remains.'

'Be of good cheer,' said I. 'Through the instrumentality of this affliction you have learnt Chinese, and, in so doing, learnt to practise the duties of hospitality. Who but a man who could read Runes on a teapot, would have received an unfortunate wayfarer as you have received me?'

'Well,' said the old man, 'let us hope that all is for the best. I am by nature indolent, and, but for this affliction, should, perhaps, have hardly taken the trouble to do my duty to my fellow-creatures. I am very, very indolent,' said he, slightly glancing towards the clock; 'therefore let us hope that all is for the best. But, oh! these trials, they are very hard to bear.'



CHAPTER XXXV

THE LEAVE-TAKING—SPIRIT OF THE HEARTH—WHAT'S O'CLOCK

The next morning, having breakfasted with my old friend, I went into the stable to make the necessary preparations for my departure; there, with the assistance of a stable lad, I cleaned and caparisoned my horse, and then, returning into the house, I made the old female attendant such a present as I deemed would be some compensation for the trouble I had caused. Hearing that the old gentleman was in the study, I repaired to him. 'I am come to take leave of you,' said I, 'and to thank you for all the hospitality which I have received at your hands.' The eyes of the old man were fixed steadfastly on the inscription which I had found him studying on a former occasion. 'At length,' he murmured to himself. 'I have it—I think I have it;' and then, looking at me, he said: 'So you are about to depart?'

'Yes,' said I, 'my horse will be at the front door in a few minutes. I am glad, however, before I go, to find that you have mastered the inscription.'

'Yes,' said the old man, 'I believe I have mastered it. It seems to consist of some verses relating to the worship of the Spirit of the Hearth.'

'What is the Spirit of the Hearth?' said I.

'One of the many demons which the Chinese worship,' said the old man. 'They do not worship one God, but many.' And then the old man told me a great many highly-interesting particulars respecting the demon worship of the Chinese.

After the lapse of at least half an hour I said: 'I must not linger here any longer, however willing. Horncastle is distant, and I wish to be there to-night. Pray can you inform me what's o'clock?'

The old man, rising, looked towards the clock which hung on the side of the room at his left hand, on the farther side of the table at which he was seated.

'I am rather short-sighted,' said I, 'and cannot distinguish the numbers at that distance.'

'It is ten o'clock,' said the old man; 'I believe somewhat past.'

'A quarter, perhaps?'

'Yes,' said the old man, 'a quarter, or—'

'Or?'

'Seven minutes, or ten minutes past ten.'

'I do not understand you.'

'Why, to tell you the truth,' said the old man, with a smile, 'there is one thing to the knowledge of which I could never exactly attain.'

'Do you mean to say,' said I, 'that you do not know what's o'clock?'

'I can give a guess,' said the old man, 'to within a few minutes.'

'But you cannot tell the exact moment?'

'No,' said the old man.

'In the name of wonder,' said I, 'with that thing there on the wall continually ticking in your ear, how comes it that you do not know what's o'clock?'

'Why,' said the old man, 'I have contented myself with giving a tolerably good guess; to do more would have been too great trouble.'

'But you have learnt Chinese,' said I.

'Yes,' said the old man, 'I have learnt Chinese.'

'Well,' said I, 'I really would counsel you to learn to know what's o'clock as soon as possible. Consider what a sad thing it would be to go out of the world not knowing what's o'clock. A millionth part of the trouble required to learn Chinese would, if employed, infallibly teach you to know what's o'clock.'

'I had a motive for learning Chinese,' said the old man, 'the hope of appeasing the misery in my head. With respect to not knowing what's o'clock, I cannot see anything particularly sad in the matter. A man may get through the world very creditably without knowing what's o'clock. Yet, upon the whole, it is no bad thing to know what's o'clock—you, of course, do? It would be too good a joke if two people were to be together, one knowing Armenian and the other Chinese, and neither knowing what's o'clock. I'll now see you off.'



CHAPTER XXXVI

ARRIVAL AT HORNCASTLE—THE INN AND OSTLERS—THE GARRET—FIGURE OF A MAN WITH A CANDLE

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

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

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

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

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