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Lavengro by George Borrow

Part 13 out of 13

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whereupon they all laughed, exclaiming, ya, ya, goot companion.
And now hurried into the room our poor old governor, with the red-
haired priest. The first asked what could have induced me to
behave in such a manner in such a place, to which I replied that I
was not going to bow down to Mumbo Jumbo, whatever other people
might do. Whereupon my master said he believed I was mad, and the
priest said he believed I was drunk; to which I answered that I was
neither so mad nor drunk but I could distinguish how the wind lay.
Whereupon they left me, and in a little time I was told by the
bluff-looking Merry-andrews I was at liberty to depart. I believe
the priest, in order to please my governor, interceded for me in
high quarters.

'But one good resulted from this affair; there was no presentation
of our family to the Holy Father, for old Mumbo was so frightened
by my outrageous looks that he was laid up for a week, as I was
afterwards informed.

'I went home, and had scarcely been there half an hour when I was
sent for by the governor, who again referred to the scene in
church, said that he could not tolerate such scandalous behaviour,
and that unless I promised to be more circumspect in future, he
should be compelled to discharge me. I said that if he was
scandalised at my behaviour in the church, I was more scandalised
at all I saw going on in the family, which was governed by two
rascally priests, who, not content with plundering him, appeared
bent on hurrying the souls of us all to destruction; and that with
respect to discharging me, he could do so that moment, as I wished
to go. I believe his own reason told him that I was right, for he
made no direct answer, but, after looking on the ground for some
time, he told me to leave him. As he did not tell me to leave the
house, I went to my room, intending to lie down for an hour or two;
but scarcely was I there when the door opened, and in came the red-
haired priest. He showed himself, as he always did, perfectly
civil, asked me how I was, took a chair and sat down. After a hem
or two he entered into a long conversation on the excellence of
what he called the Catholic religion; told me that he hoped I would
not set myself against the light, and likewise against my interest;
for that the family were about to embrace the Catholic religion,
and would make it worth my while to follow their example. I told
him that the family might do what they pleased, but that I would
never forsake the religion of my country for any consideration
whatever; that I was nothing but a poor servant, but I was not to
be bought by base gold. "I admire your honourable feelings," said
he, "you shall have no gold; and as I see you are a fellow of
spirit, and do not like being a servant, for which I commend you, I
can promise you something better. I have a good deal of influence
in this place, and if you will not set your face against the light,
but embrace the Catholic religion, I will undertake to make your
fortune. You remember those fine fellows to-day who took you into
custody, they are the guards of his Holiness. I have no doubt that
I have interest enough to procure your enrolment amongst them."
"What," said I, "become swashbuckler to Mumbo Jumbo up here! May I
. . ."--and here I swore--"if I do. The mere possibility of one of
their children being swashbuckler to Mumbo Jumbo on the high
Barbary shore has always been a source of heart-breaking to my poor
parents. What, then, would they not undergo, if they knew for
certain that their other child was swashbuckler to Mumbo Jumbo up
here?" Thereupon he asked me, even as you did some time ago, what
I meant by Mumbo Jumbo. And I told him all I had heard about the
Mumbo Jumbo of the high Barbary shore; telling him that I had no
doubt that the old fellow up here was his brother, or nearly
related to him. The man with the red hair listened with the
greatest attention to all I said, and when I had concluded, he got
up, nodded to me, and moved to the door; ere he reached the door I
saw his shoulders shaking, and as he closed it behind him I heard
him distinctly laughing, to the tune of--he! he! he!

'But now matters began to mend. That same evening my young master
unexpectedly arrived. I believe he soon perceived that something
extraordinary had been going on in the family. He was for some
time closeted with the governor, with whom, I believe, he had a
dispute; for my fellow-servant, the lady's maid, informed me that
she heard high words.

'Rather late at night the young gentleman sent for me into his
room, and asked me various questions with respect to what had been
going on, and my behaviour in the church, of which he had heard
something. I told him all I knew with respect to the intrigues of
the two priests in the family, and gave him a circumstantial
account of all that had occurred in the church; adding that, under
similar circumstances, I was ready to play the same part over
again. Instead of blaming me, he commended my behaviour, told me I
was a fine fellow, and said he hoped that, if he wanted my
assistance, I would stand by him: this I promised to do. Before I
left him, he entreated me to inform him the very next time I saw
the priests entering the house.

'The next morning, as I was in the courtyard, where I had placed
myself to watch, I saw the two enter and make their way up a
private stair to the young ladies' apartment; they were attended by
a man dressed something like a priest, who bore a large box; I
instantly ran to relate what I had seen to my young master. I
found him shaving. "I will just finish what I am about," said he,
"and then wait upon these gentlemen." He finished what he was
about with great deliberation; then taking a horsewhip, and bidding
me follow him, he proceeded at once to the door of his sisters'
apartment: finding it fastened, he burst it open at once with his
foot and entered, followed by myself. There we beheld the two
unfortunate young ladies down on their knees before a large female
doll, dressed up, as usual, in rags and tinsel; the two priests
were standing near, one on either side, with their hands uplifted,
whilst the fellow who brought the trumpery stood a little way down
the private stair, the door of which stood open; without a moment's
hesitation, my young master rushed forward, gave the image a cut or
two with his horsewhip--then flying at the priests, he gave them a
sound flogging, kicked them down the private stair, and spurned the
man, box and image after them--then locking the door, he gave his
sisters a fine sermon, in which he represented to them their folly
in worshipping a silly wooden graven image, which, though it had
eyes, could see not; though it had ears, could hear not; though it
had hands, could not help itself; and though it had feet, could not
move about unless it were carried. Oh, it was a fine sermon that
my young master preached, and sorry I am that the Father of the
Fetish, old Mumbo, did not hear it. The elder sister looked
ashamed, but the youngest, who was very weak, did nothing but wring
her hands, weep and bewail the injury which had been done to the
dear image. The young man, however, without paying much regard to
either of them, went to his father, with whom he had a long
conversation, which terminated in the old governor giving orders
for preparations to be made for the family's leaving Rome and
returning to England. I believe that the old governor was glad of
his son's arrival, and rejoiced at the idea of getting away from
Italy, where he had been so plundered and imposed upon. The
priests, however, made another attempt upon the poor young ladies.
By the connivance of the female servant who was in their interest
they found their way once more into their apartment, bringing with
them the fetish image, whose body they partly stripped, exhibiting
upon it certain sanguine marks which they had daubed upon it with
red paint, but which they said were the result of the lashes which
it had received from the horsewhip. The youngest girl believed all
they said, and kissed and embraced the dear image; but the eldest,
whose eyes had been opened by her brother, to whom she was much
attached, behaved with proper dignity; for, going to the door, she
called the female servant who had a respect for me, and in her
presence reproached the two deceivers for their various impudent
cheats, and especially for this their last attempt at imposition;
adding that if they did not forthwith withdraw and rid her sister
and herself of their presence, she would send word by her maid to
her brother, who would presently take effectual means to expel
them. They took the hint and departed, and we saw no more of them.

'At the end of three days we departed from Rome, but the maid whom
the priests had cajoled remained behind, and it is probable that
the youngest of our ladies would have done the same thing if she
could have had her own will, for she was continually raving about
her image, and saying she should wish to live with it in a convent;
but we watched the poor thing, and got her on board ship. Oh, glad
was I to leave that fetish country and old Mumbo behind me!


Nothing but gloom--Sporting character--Gouty Tory--Servants' Club--
Politics--Reformado footman--Peroration--Good-night.

'We arrived in England, and went to our country seat, but the peace
and tranquillity of the family had been marred, and I no longer
found my place the pleasant one which it had formerly been; there
was nothing but gloom in the house, for the youngest daughter
exhibited signs of lunacy, and was obliged to be kept under
confinement. The next season I attended my master, his son, and
eldest daughter to London, as I had previously done. There I left
them, for hearing that a young baronet, an acquaintance of the
family, wanted a servant, I applied for the place, with the consent
of my masters, both of whom gave me a strong recommendation; and,
being approved of, I went to live with him.

'My new master was what is called a sporting character, very fond
of the turf, upon which he was not very fortunate. He was
frequently very much in want of money, and my wages were anything
but regularly paid; nevertheless, I liked him very much, for he
treated me more like a friend than a domestic, continually
consulting me as to his affairs. At length he was brought nearly
to his last shifts, by backing the favourite at the Derby, which
favourite turned out a regular brute, being found nowhere at the
rush. Whereupon, he and I had a solemn consultation over fourteen
glasses of brandy and water, and as many cigars--I mean, between
us--as to what was to be done. He wished to start a coach, in
which event he was to be driver, and I guard. He was quite
competent to drive a coach, being a first-rate whip, and I daresay
I should have made a first-rate guard; but, to start a coach
requires money, and we neither of us believed that anybody would
trust us with vehicles and horses, so that idea was laid aside. We
then debated as to whether or not he should go into the Church; but
to go into the Church--at any rate to become a dean or bishop,
which would have been our aim--it is necessary for a man to possess
some education; and my master, although he had been at the best
school in England, that is, the most expensive, and also at
College, was almost totally illiterate, so we let the Church scheme
follow that of the coach. At last, bethinking me that he was
tolerably glib at the tongue, as most people are who are addicted
to the turf, also a great master of slang; remembering also that he
had a crabbed old uncle, who had some borough interest, I proposed
that he should get into the House, promising in one fortnight to
qualify him to make a figure in it, by certain lessons which I
would give him. He consented; and during the next fortnight I did
little else than give him lessons in elocution, following to a
tittle the method of the great professor, which I had picked up,
listening behind the door. At the end of that period we paid a
visit to his relation, an old gouty Tory, who at first received us
very coolly. My master, however, by flattering a predilection of
his for Billy Pitt, soon won his affections so much that he
promised to bring him into Parliament; and in less than a month was
as good as his word. My master, partly by his own qualifications,
and partly by the assistance which he had derived, and still
occasionally derived, from me, cut a wonderful figure in the House,
and was speedily considered one of the most promising speakers; he
was always a good hand at promising--he is at present, I believe, a
Cabinet minister.

'But as he got up in the world he began to look down on me. I
believe he was ashamed of the obligation under which he lay to me;
and at last, requiring no further hints as to oratory from a poor
servant like me, he took an opportunity of quarrelling with me and
discharging me. However, as he had still some grace, he
recommended me to a gentleman with whom, since he had attached
himself to politics, he had formed an acquaintance, the editor of a
grand Tory Review. I lost caste terribly amongst the servants for
entering the service of a person connected with a profession so
mean as literature; and it was proposed at the Servants' Club, in
Park Lane, to eject me from that society. The proposition,
however, was not carried into effect, and I was permitted to show
myself among them, though few condescended to take much notice of
me. My master was one of the best men in the world, but also one
of the most sensitive. On his veracity being impugned by the
editor of a newspaper, he called him out, and shot him through the
arm. Though servants are seldom admirers of their masters, I was a
great admirer of mine, and eager to follow his example. The day
after the encounter, on my veracity being impugned by the servant
of Lord C- in something I said in praise of my master, I determined
to call him out; so I went into another room and wrote a challenge.
But whom should I send it by? Several servants to whom I applied
refused to be the bearers of it; they said I had lost caste, and
they could not think of going out with me. At length the servant
of the Duke of B- consented to take it; but he made me to
understand that, though he went out with me, he did so merely
because he despised the Whiggish principles of Lord C-'s servant,
and that if I thought he intended to associate with me I should be
mistaken. Politics, I must tell you, at that time ran as high
amongst the servants as the gentlemen, the servants, however, being
almost invariably opposed to the politics of their respective
masters, though both parties agreed in one point, the scouting of
everything low and literary, though I think, of the two, the
liberal or reform party were the most inveterate. So he took my
challenge, which was accepted; we went out, Lord C-'s servant being
seconded by a reformado footman from the palace. We fired three
times without effect; but this affair lost me my place; my master
on hearing it forthwith discharged me; he was, as I have said
before, very sensitive, and he said this duel of mine was a parody
of his own. Being, however, one of the best men in the world, on
his discharging me he made me a donation of twenty pounds.

'And it was well that he made me this present, for without it I
should have been penniless, having contracted rather expensive
habits during the time that I lived with the young baronet. I now
determined to visit my parents, whom I had not seen for years. I
found them in good health, and, after staying with them for two
months, I returned again in the direction of town, walking, in
order to see the country. On the second day of my journey, not
being used to such fatigue, I fell ill at a great inn on the north
road, and there I continued for some weeks till I recovered, but by
that time my money was entirely spent. By living at the inn I had
contracted an acquaintance with the master and the people, and
become accustomed to inn life. As I thought that I might find some
difficulty in procuring any desirable situation in London, owing to
my late connection with literature, I determined to remain where I
was, provided my services would be accepted. I offered them to the
master, who, finding I knew something of horses, engaged me as a
postilion. I have remained there since. You have now heard my

'Stay, you shan't say that I told my tale without a per--
peroration. What shall it be? Oh, I remember something which will
serve for one. As I was driving my chaise some weeks ago, I saw
standing at the gate of an avenue, which led up to an old mansion,
a figure which I thought I recognised. I looked at it attentively,
and the figure, as I passed, looked at me; whether it remembered me
I do not know, but I recognised the face it showed me full well.

'If it was not the identical face of the red-haired priest whom I
had seen at Rome, may I catch cold!

'Young gentleman, I will now take a spell on your blanket--young
lady, good-night.'

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