Letters of George Borrow to Bible Society HTML version

Letter 29: 8th January, 1836
To the Rev. A. Brandram
(ENDORSED: recd. Feb. 15, 1836)
Badajoz, JANRY. 8, 1836.
ON the afternoon of the sixth of December I set out for this place, accompanied
by my servant Anthonio. I had been informed that the tide would serve for the
FELOUKS, or passage-boats, employed in crossing the Tagus, at about four
o'clock, but on reaching the river's side opposite Aldea Gallega, between which
place and Lisbon they ply, I found that the tide would not permit them to start
before eight o'clock. Had I waited for them I should probably have landed at
Aldea Gallega at midnight, and I felt little inclination to make my ENTREE in the
Alemtejo at that hour; therefore as I saw small boats which can push off at any
time lying near in abundance, I determined upon hiring one of them for the
passage, though the expense would be thus considerably increased. I soon
agreed with a wild-looking lad to take us over, who told me that he was in part
owner of one of the boats. I was not aware of the danger in crossing the Tagus at
any time in these small boats at its broadest part, which is between Lisbon and
Aldea Gallega, but especially at close of day in the winter season, or I should
certainly not have ventured. The lad and his comrade, a miserable object, whose
only clothing, notwithstanding the severity of the weather, was a battered jerkin
and trousers, rowed until we had advanced about half a mile from the land; they
then hoisted a large sail, and the lad, who seemed to be the principal and to
direct everything, took the helm and steered. The evening was now setting in; the
sun was not far from its bourne in the horizon, the air was very cold, the wind
was rising, and the waves of the noble Tagus began to be crested with foam. I
told the boy that it was scarcely possible for the boat to carry so much sail
without upsetting; upon which he laughed, and began to gabble in a most
incoherent manner. He had the most harsh and rapid articulation that has ever
come under my observation; it was the scream of the hyena blended with the
bark of the terrier; but it was by no means an index of his disposition, which I
soon found to be light, merry, and anything but malevolent; for when I, in order to
show him that I cared little about him, began to hum: 'EU QUE SOU
CONTRABANDISTA' ('I, who am a smuggler'), he laughed heartily, and clapping
me on the shoulder said that he would not drown us if he could help it. The other
poor fellow seemed by no means averse to go to the bottom; he sat at the
forepart of the boat looking the image of famine, and only smiled when the
waters broke over the side and drenched his scanty clothing. In a little time I had
made up my mind that our last hour was come; the wind was becoming higher,