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2006-07-09 15:58

  Chapter 82

  Offence and defence - I‘m satisfied - Fond of solitude - Possession of property - Chal Devlehi - Winding path.

  AND when I heard Mr. Petulengro talk in this manner, which I had never heard him do before, and which I can only account for by his being fasting and ill-tempered, I had of course no other alternative than to accept his challenge; so I put myself into a posture which I deemed the best both for offence and defence, and the tussle commenced; and when it had endured for about half an hour, Mr. Petulengro said, ‘Brother, there is much blood on your face; you had better wipe it off’; and when I had wiped it off, and again resumed my former attitude, Mr. Petulengro said, ‘I think enough has been done, brother, in the affair of the old woman; I have, moreover, tried what you are able to do, and find you, as I thought, less apt with the naked mawleys than the stuffed gloves; nay, brother, put your hands down, I’m satisfied; blood has been shed, which is all that can be reasonably expected for an old woman who carried so much brimstone about her as Mrs. Herne.‘

  So the struggle ended, and we resumed our route, Mr. Petulengro sitting sideways upon his horse as before, and I driving my little pony-cart; and when we had proceeded about three miles, we came to a small public-house, which bore the sign of the Silent Woman, where we stopped to refresh our cattle and ourselves; and as we sat over our bread and ale, it came to pass that Mr. Petulengro asked me various questions, and amongst others, how I intended to dispose of myself; I told him that I did not know; whereupon, with considerable frankness, he invited me to his camp, and told me that if I chose to settle down amongst them, and become a Rommany chal, I should have his wife‘s sister Ursula, who was still unmarried, and occasionally talked of me.

  I declined his offer, assigning as a reason the recent death of Mrs. Herne, of which I was the cause, although innocent. ‘A pretty life I should lead with those two,’ said I, ‘when they came to know it.’ ‘Pooh,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘they will never know it. I shan’t blab, and as for Leonora, that girl has a head on her shoulders.‘ ’Unlike the woman in the sign,‘ said I, ’whose head is cut off. You speak nonsense, Mr. Petulengro; as long as a woman has a head on her shoulders she‘ll talk, - but, leaving women out of the case, it is impossible to keep anything a secret; an old master of mine told me so long ago. I have moreover another reason for declining your offer. I am at present not disposed for society. I am become fond of solitude. I wish I could find some quiet place to which I could retire to hold communion with my own thoughts, and practise, if I thought fit, either of my trades.’ ‘What trades?’ said Mr. Petulengro. ‘Why, the one which I have lately been engaged in, or my original one, which I confess I should like better, that of a kaulo-mescro.’ ‘Ah, I have frequently heard you talk of making horse-shoes,’ said Mr. Petulengro; ‘I, however, never saw you make one, and no one else that I am aware; I don’t believe - come, brother, don‘t be angry, it’s quite possible that you may have done things which neither I nor any one else has seen you do, and that such things may some day or other come to light, as you say nothing can be kept secret. Be that, however, as it may, pay the reckoning and let us be going; I think I can advise you to just such a kind of place as you seem to want.‘

  ‘And how do you know that I have got wherewithal to pay the reckoning?’ I demanded. ‘Brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, ‘I was just now looking in your face, which exhibited the very look of a person conscious of the possession of property; there was nothing hungry or sneaking in it. Pay the reckoning, brother.’

  And when we were once more upon the road, Mr. Petulengro began to talk of the place which he conceived would serve me as a retreat under present circumstances. ‘I tell you frankly, brother, that it is a queer kind of place, and I am not very fond of pitching my tent in it, it is so surprisingly dreary. It is a deep dingle in the midst of a large field, on an estate about which there has been a lawsuit for some years past. I daresay you will be quiet enough, for the nearest town is five miles distant, and there are only a few huts and hedge public-houses in the neighbourhood. Brother, I am fond of solitude myself, but not that kind of solitude; I like a quiet heath, where I can pitch my house, but I always like to have a gay stirring place not far off, where the women can pen dukkerin, and I myself can sell or buy a horse, if needful - such a place as the Chong Gav. I never feel so merry as when there, brother, or on the heath above it, where I taught you Rommany.’

  Shortly after this discourse we reached a milestone, and a few yards from the milestone, on the left hand, was a crossroad. Thereupon Mr. Petulengro said, ‘Brother, my path lies to the left if you choose to go with me to my camp, good; if not, Chal Devlehi.’ But I again refused Mr. Petulengro‘s invitation, and, shaking him by the hand, proceeded forward alone; and about ten miles farther on I reached the town of which he had spoken, and, following certain directions which he had given, discovered, though not without some difficulty, the dingle which he had mentioned. It was a deep hollow in the midst of a wide field; the shelving sides were overgrown with trees and bushes, a belt of sallows surrounded it on the top, a steep winding path led down into the depths, practicable, however, for a light cart, like mine; at the bottom was an open space, and there I pitched my tent, and there I contrived to put up my forge. ’I will here ply the trade of kaulomescro,‘ said I.

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