Chapter 47

New acquaintance - Wired cases - Bread and wine - Armenian colonies - Learning without money - What a language - The tide - Your foible - Learning of the Haiks - Old proverb - Pressing invitation.

JUST as I was about to reply to the interrogation of my new-formed acquaintance, a man with a dusky countenance, probably one of the Lascars, or Mulattos, of whom the old woman had spoken, came up and whispered to him, and with this man he presently departed, not however before he had told me the place of his abode, and requested me to visit him.

After the lapse of a few days, I called at the house which he had indicated. It was situated in a dark and narrow street, in the heart of the City, at no great distance from the Bank. I entered a counting-room, in which a solitary clerk, with a foreign look, was writing. The stranger was not at home; returning the next day, however, I met him at the door as he was about to enter; he shook me warmly by the hand. ‘I am glad to see you,’ said he, ‘follow me, I was just thinking of you.’ He led me through the counting- room, to an apartment up a flight of stairs; before ascending, however, he looked into the book in which the foreign-visaged clerk was writing, and, seemingly not satisfied with the manner in which he was executing his task, he gave him two or three cuffs, telling him at the same time that he deserved crucifixion.

The apartment above stairs, to which he led me, was large, with three windows, which opened upon the street. The walls were hung with wired cases, apparently containing books. There was a table and two or three chairs; but the principal article of furniture was a long sofa, extending from the door by which we entered to the farther end of the apartment. Seating himself upon the sofa, my new acquaintance motioned to me to sit beside him, and then, looking me full in the face, repeated his former inquiry. ‘In the name of all that is wonderful, how came you to know aught of my language?’

‘There is nothing wonderful in that,’ said I; ‘we are at the commencement of a philological age, every one studies languages; that is, every one who is fit for nothing else; philology being the last resource of dulness and ennui, I have got a little in advance of the throng, by mastering the Armenian alphabet; but I foresee the time when every unmarriageable miss, and desperate blockhead, will likewise have acquired the letters of Mesroub, and will know the term for bread, in Armenian, and perhaps that for wine.’

‘Kini,’ said my companion; and that and the other word put me in mind of the duties of hospitality. ‘Will you eat bread and drink wine with me?’

‘Willingly,’ said I. Whereupon my companion, unlocking a closet, produced, on a silver salver, a loaf of bread, with a silver- handled knife, and wine in a silver flask, with cups of the same metal. ‘ I hope you like my fare,’ said he, after we had both eaten and drunk.

‘I like your bread,’ said I, ‘for it is stale; I like not your wine, it is sweet, and I hate sweet wine.’

‘It is wine of Cyprus,’ said my entertainer; and, when I found that it was wine of Cyprus, I tasted it again, and the second taste pleased me much better than the first, notwithstanding that I still thought it somewhat sweet. ‘So,’ said I, after a pause, looking at my companion, ‘you are an Armenian.’

‘Yes,’ said he, ‘an Armenian born in London, but not less an Armenian on that account. My father was a native of Ispahan, one of the celebrated Armenian colony which was established there shortly after the time of the dreadful hunger, which drove the children of Haik in swarms from their original country, and scattered them over most parts of the eastern and western world. In Ispahan he passed the greater portion of his life, following mercantile pursuits with considerable success. Certain enemies, however, having accused him to the despot of the place, of using seditious language, he was compelled to flee, leaving most of his property behind. Travelling in the direction of the west, he came at last to London, where he established himself, and where he eventually died, leaving behind a large property and myself, his only child, the fruit of a marriage with an Armenian Englishwoman, who did not survive my birth more than three months.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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