The fight with the Flaming Tinman.
From "Lavengro".Pages: <1>
George Borrow, a scholar and a capable amateur boxer, lived much among gypsies. At one period he bought up the business of a travelling smith named Slingsby, who went in fear of a bullying rival, the Flaming Tinman, Coming upon Borrow unexpectedly in a favourite camping-ground of his own, the Flaming Tinman was, for the moment, startled.
"You need not be afraid," said I, addressing myself to the man, "I mean you no harm; I am a wanderer like yourself - come here to seek for shelter - you need not be afraid; I am a Rome chabo by matriculation - one of the right sort, and no mistake - Good-day to ye, brother; I bids ye welcome."
The man eyed me suspiciously for a moment - then, turning to his horse with a loud curse, he pulled him up from his haunches, and led him and the cart farther down to one side of the dingle, muttering as he passed me, "Afraid. Hm!"
I do not remember ever to have seen a more ruffianly-looking fellow; he was about six feet high, with an immensely athletic frame; his face was black and bluff, and sported an immense pair of whiskers, but with here and there a grey hair, for his age could not be much under fifty. He wore a faded blue frock coat, corduroys, and high-lows - on his black head was a kind of red nightcap, round his bull neck a Barcelona handkerchief - I did not like the look of the man at all.
"Afraid," growled the fellow, proceeding to unharness his horse; "that was the word, I think."
But other figures were now already upon the scene. Dashing past the other horse and cart, which by this time had reached the bottom of the pass, appeared an exceedingly tall woman, or rather girl, for she could scarcely have been above eighteen; she was dressed in a tight bodice and a blue stuff gown; hat, bonnet, or cap she had none, and her hair, which was flaxen, hung down on her shoulders unconfined; her complexion was fair, and her features handsome, with a determined but open expression - she was followed by another female, about forty, stout and vulgar-looking, at whom I scarcely glanced, my whole attention being absorbed by the tall girl.
"What's the matter, Jack? " said the latter, looking at the man.
"Only afraid, that's all," said the man, still proceeding with his work.
"Afraid at what - at that lad? why, he looks like a ghost - I would engage to thrash him with one hand."
"You might beat me with no hands at all," said I, "fair damsel, only by looking at me - I never saw such a face and figure, both regal - why, you look like Ingeborg, Queen of Norway; she had twelve brothers, you know, and could lick them all, though they were heroes -
"On Dovrefeld in Norway,
"None of your chaffing, young fellow" said the tall girl, "or I will give you what shall make you wipe your face; be civil, or you will rue it."
"Well, perhaps I was a peg too high," said I, "I ask your pardon - here's something a bit lower -
"As I was jawing to the gav yeck divvus
I met on the drom miro Rommany chi-"
"None of your Rommany chies, young fellow" said the tall girl, looking more menacingly than before, and clenching her fist, "you had better be civil. I am none of your chies; and, though I keep company with gypsies, or, to speak more proper, half and halfs, I would have you to know that I come of Christian blood and parents, and was born in the great house of Long Melford."
"I have no doubt" said I, "that it was a great house; judging from your size, I shouldn't wonder if you were born in a church."
"Stay, Belle," said the man, putting himself before the young virago, who was about to rush upon me, "my turn is first" - then, advancing to me in a menacing attitude, he said, with a look of deep malignity, "'Afraid,' was the word, wasn't it?"
"It was," said I, "but I think I wronged you; I should have said, aghast; you exhibited every symptom of one labouring under uncontrollable fear."
The fellow stared at me with a look of stupid ferocity, and appeared to be hesitating whether to strike or not; ere he could make up his mind, the tall girl stepped forward, crying, "He's chaffing; let me at him;" and, before I could put myself on my guard, she struck me a blow on the face which had nearly brought me to the ground.
"Enough," said I, putting my hand to my cheek; "you have now performed your promise, and made me wipe my face: now be pacified, and tell me fairly the ground of this quarrel."
"Grounds!" said the fellow; "didn't you say I was afraid; and if you hadn't, who gave you leave to camp on my ground?"
"Is it your ground?" said I.
"A pretty question," said the fellow; "as if all the world didn't know that. Do you know who I am?"
"I guess I do," said I; "unless I am much mistaken, you are he whom folks call the 'Flaming Tinman.' To tell you the truth, I'm glad we have met, for I wished to see you. These are your two wives, I suppose; I greet them. There's no harm done - there's room enough here for all of us - we shall soon be good friends, I dare say; and when we are a little better acquainted, I'll tell you my history."
"Well, if that doesn't beat all," said the fellow.
"I don't think he's chaffing now," said the girl, whose anger seemed to have subsided on a sudden; "the young man speaks civil enough."
"Civil," said the fellow, with an oath; "but that's just like you; with you it is a blow, and all over. Civil! I suppose you would have him stay here, and get into all my secrets, and hear all I may have to say to my two morts."
"Two morts," said the girl, kindling up, " where are they? Speak for one, and no more. I am no mort of yours, whatever some one else may be. I tell you one thing, Black John, or Anselo, for t'other an't your name, the same thing I told the young man here, be civil, or you will rue it."
The fellow looked at the girl furiously, but his glance soon quailed before hers; he withdrew his eyes, and cast them on my little horse, which was feeding amongst the trees. "What's this?" said he, rushing forward and seizing the animal. "Why, as I am alive, this is the horse of that mumping villain Slingsby."
"It's his no longer; I bought it and paid for it."
"It's mine now," said the fellow; "I swore I would seize it the next time I found it on my beat; ay, and beat the master too."
"I am not Slingsby."
"All's one for that."
"You don't say you will beat me?"
"Afraid was the word."
"I'm sick and feeble."
"Hold up your fists."
"Won't the horse satisfy you?"
"Horse nor bellows either."
"No mercy, then."
"Here's at you."
"Mind your eyes, Jack. There, you've got it. I thought so," shouted the girl, as the fellow staggered back from a sharp blow in the eye. "I thought he was chaffing at you all along."
"Never mind, Anselo. You know what to do - go in," said the vulgar woman, who had hitherto not spoken a word, but who now came forward with all the look of a fury; "go in apopli; you'll smash ten like he."
The Flaming Tinman took her advice, and came in bent on smashing, but stopped short on receiving a left-handed blow on the nose.
"You'll never beat the Flaming Tinman in that way," said the girl, looking at me doubtfully.
And so I began to think myself, when, in the twinkling of an eye, the Flaming Tinman, disengaging himself of his frock-coat, and dashing off his red nightcap, came rushing in more desperately than ever. To a flush hit which he received in the mouth he paid as little attention as a wild bull would have done; in a moment his arms were around me, and in another, he had hurled me down, falling heavily upon me. The fellow's strength appeared to be tremendous.
"Pay him off now," said the vulgar woman. The Flaming Tinman made no reply, but planting his knee on my breast, seized my throat with two huge horny hands. I gave myself up for dead, and probably should have been so in another minute but for the tall girl, who caught hold of the handkerchief which the fellow wore round his neck with a grasp nearly as powerful as that with which he pressed my throat.
"Do you call that fair play? " said she.
"Hands off, Belle," said the other woman; " do you call it fair play to interfere? hands off, or I'll be down upon you myself."
But Belle paid no heed to the injunction, and tugged so hard at the handkerchief, that the Flaming Tinman was nearly throttled; suddenly relinquishing his hold of me, he started on his feet, and aimed a blow at my fair preserver, who avoided it, but said coolly:
"Finish t'other business first, and then I'm your woman whenever you like; but finish it fairly - no foul play when I'm by - I'll be the boy's second, and Moll can pick up you when he happens to knock you down."
The battle during the next ten minutes raged with considerable fury, but it so happened that during this time I was never able to knock the Flaming Tinman down, but on the contrary received six knock-down blows myself. "I can never stand this," said I, as I sat on the knee of Belle, "I am afraid I must give in; the Flaming Tinman hits very hard," and I spat out a mouthful of blood.
"Sure enough you'll never beat the Flaming Tinman in the way you fight - it's of no use flipping at the Flaming Tinman with your left hand; why don't you use your right? "
"Because I'm not handy with it," said I; and then getting up, I once more confronted the Flaming Tinman, and struck him six blows for his one, but they were all left-handed blows, and the blow which the Flaming Tinman gave me knocked me off my legs.
"Now, will you use Long Melford?" said Belle, picking me up.
"I don't know what you mean by Long Melford," said I, gasping for breath.
"Why, this long right of yours," said Belle, feeling my right arm - "if you do, I shouldn't wonder if you yet stand a chance."
And now the Flaming Tinman was once more ready, much more ready than myself, I, however, rose from my second's knee as well as my weakness would permit me. On he came, striking left and right, appearing almost as fresh as to wind and spirit as when he first commenced the combat, though his eyes were considerably swelled, and his nether lip was cut in two; on he came, striking left and right, and I did not like his blows at all, or even the wind of them, which was anything but agreeable, and I gave way before him. At last he aimed a blow, which, had it taken full effect, would doubtless have ended the battle, but owing to his slipping, the fist only grazed my left shoulder, and came with terrific force against a tree, close to which I had been driven; before the tinman could recover himself I collected all my strength, and struck him beneath the ear, and then fell to the ground completely exhausted, and it so happened that the blow which I struck the Tinker beneath the ear was a right-handed blow.
"Hurrah for Long Melford!" I heard Belle exclaim; "there is nothing like Long Melford for shortness all the world over."
At these words, I turned round my head as I lay, and perceived the Flaming Tinman stretched upon the ground apparently senseless. "He is dead," said the vulgar woman, as she vainly endeavoured to raise him up; "he is dead; the best man in all the north country, killed in this fashion, by a boy." Alarmed at these words, I made shift to get on my feet; and, with the assistance of the woman, placed my fallen adversary in a sitting posture. I put my hand to his heart, and felt a slight pulsation - "He's not dead," said I, "only stunned; if he were let blood, he would recover presently."