The Gypsies
by Charles G. Leland
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"Dikk'adovo Giorgio, adoi!" (Look at that Gorgio, there!)

Being a Romany rye, and not accustomed to be spoken of as a Gorgio, I looked up at him, angrily, when he, seeing that I understood him, smiled, and bowed politely in apology. I laughed and passed on. But I thought it a little strange, for neither of the men had the slightest indication of gypsiness. I met the one who had said sarishan ba again, soon after. I found that he and the one of the wagon were not of gypsy blood, but of a class not uncommon in England, who, be they rich or poor, are affected towards gypsies. The wealthy one lived with a gypsy mistress; the poorer one had a gypsy wife, and was very fond of the language. There is a very large class of these mysterious men everywhere about the country. They haunt fairs; they pop up unexpectedly as Jack-in-boxes in unsuspected guise; they look out from under fatherly umbrellas; their name is Legion; their mother is Mystery, and their uncle is Old Tom,—not of Virginia, but of Gin. Once, in the old town of Canterbury, I stood in the street, under the Old Woman with the Clock, one of the quaintest pieces of drollery ever imagined during the Middle Ages. And by me was a tinker, and as his wheel went siz-'z-'z-'z, uz-uz-uz-z-z! I talked with him, and there joined us a fat, little, elderly, spectacled, shabby-genteel, but well-to-do-looking sort of a punchy, small tradesman. And, as we spoke, there went by a great, stout, roaring Romany woman,—a scarlet-runner of Babylon run to seed,—with a boy and a hand-cart to carry the seed in. And to her I cried, "Hav akai te mandy'll del tute a shaori!" (Come here, and I'll stand a sixpence!) But she did not believe in my offer, but went her way, like a Burning Shame, through the crowd, and was lost evermore. I looked at the little old gentleman to see what effect my outcry in a strange language had upon him. But he only remarked, soberly, "Well, now, I should 'a' thought a sixpence would 'a' brought her to!" And the wheel said, "Suz-zuz-zuz-z-z I should 'a' suz-suz 'a' thought a suz-z-zixpence would 'a' suz-zuz 'a' brought her, too-z-z-z!" And I looked at the Old Woman with the Clock, and she ticked, "A—six—pence—would—have—brought—me—two—three—four"—and I began to dream that all Canterbury was Romany.

We came to the house, the landlord was up-stairs, ill in bed, but would be glad to see us; and he welcomed us warmly, and went deeply into Romany family matters with my friend, the Oxford scholar. Meanwhile, his daughter, a nice brunette, received and read a letter; and he tried to explain to me the mystery of the many men who are not gypsies, yet speak Romany, but could not do it, though he was one of them. It appeared from his account that they were "a kind of mixed, you see, and dusted in, you know, and on it, out of the family, it peppers up; but not exactly, you understand, and that's the way it is. And I remember a case in point, and that was one day, and I had sold a horse, and was with my boy in a moramengro's buddika [barber's shop], and my boy says to me, in Romanes, 'Father, I'd like to have my hair cut.' 'It's too dear here, my son,' said I, Romaneskes; 'for the bill says threepence.' And then the barber, he ups and says, in Romany, 'Since you're Romanys, I'll cut it for twopence, though it's clear out of all my rules.' And he did it; but why that man rakkered Romanes I don't know, nor how it comes about; for he hadn't no more call to it than a pig has to be a preacher. But I've known men in Sussex to take to diggin' truffles on the same principles, and one Gorgio in Hastings that adopted sellin' fried fish for his livin', about the town, because he thought it was kind of romantic. That's it."

Over the chimney-piece hung a large engraving of Milton and his daughters. It was out of place, and our host knew it, and was proud. He said he had bought it at an auction, and that it was a picture of Middleton,—a poet, he believed; "anyhow, he was a writing man." But, on second thought, he remembered that the name was not Middleton, but Millerton. And on further reflection, he was still more convinced that Millerton was a poet.

I once asked old Matthew Cooper the Romany word for a poet. And he promptly replied that he had generally heard such a man called a givellengero or gilliengro, which means a song-master, but that he himself regarded shereskero-mush, or head-man, as more elegant and deeper; for poets make songs out of their heads, and are also ahead of all other men in head-work. There is a touching and unconscious tribute to the art of arts in this definition which is worth recording. It has been said that, as people grow polite, they cease to be poetical; it is certain that in the first circles they do not speak of their poets with such respect as this.

Out again into the fresh air and the frost on the crisp, crackling road and in the sunshine. At such a time, when cold inspires life, one can understand why the old poets and mystics believed that there was fire in ice. Therefore, Saint Sebaldus, coming into the hut of a poor and pious man who was dying of cold, went out, and, bringing in an armful of icicles, laid them on the andirons and made a good fire. Now this fire was the inner glowing glory of God, and worked both ways,—of course you see the connection,—as was shown in Adelheid von Sigolsheim, the Holy Nun of Unterlinden, who was so full of it that she passed the night in a freezing stream, and then stood all the morning, ice-clad, in the choir, and never caught cold. And the pious Peroneta, to avoid a sinful suitor, lived all winter, up to her neck, in ice-water, on the highest Alp in Savoy. {125} These were saints. But there was a gypsy, named Dighton, encamped near Brighton, who told me nearly the same story of another gypsy, who was no saint, and which I repeat merely to show how extremes meet. It was that this gypsy, who was inspired with anything but the inner glowing glory of God, but who was, on the contrary, cram full of pure cussedness, being warmed by the same,—and the devil,—when chased by the constable, took refuge in a river full of freezing slush and broken ice, where he stood up to his neck and defied capture; for he verily cared no more for it than did Saint Peter of Alcantara, who was both ice and fire proof. "Come out of that, my good man," said the gentleman, whose hen he had stolen, "and I'll let you go." "No, I won't come out," said the gypsy. "My blood be on your head!" So the gentleman offered him five pounds, and then a suit of clothes, to come ashore. The gypsy reflected, and at last said, "Well, if you'll add a drink of spirits, I'll come; but it's only to oblige you that I budge."

Then we walked in the sober evening, with its gray gathering shadows, as the last western rose light rippled in the river, yet fading in the sky,—like a good man who, in dying, speaks cheerfully of earthly things, while his soul is vanishing serenely into heaven. The swans, looking like snowballs, unconscious of cold were taking their last swim towards the reedy, brake-tangled islets where they nested, gossiping as they went. The deepening darkness, at such a time, becomes more impressive from the twinkling stars, just as the subduing silence is noted only by the far-borne sounds from the hamlet or farm-house, or the occasional whispers of the night-breeze. So we went on in the twilight, along the Thames, till we saw the night-fire of the Romanys and its gleam on the tan. A tan is, strictly speaking, a tent, but a tent is a dwelling, or stopping-place; and so from earliest Aryan time, the word tan is like Alabama, or "here we rest," and may be found in tun, the ancestor of town, and in stan, as in Hindostan,—and if I blunder, so much the better for the philological gentlemen, who, of all others, most delight in setting erring brothers right, and never miss a chance to show, through others' shame, how much they know.

There was a bark of a dog, and a voice said, "The Romany rye!" They had not seen us, but the dog knew, and they knew his language.

"Sarishan ryor!"

"O boro duvel atch' pa leste!" (The great Lord be on you!) This is not a common Romany greeting. It is of ancient days and archaic. Sixty or seventy years ago it was current. Old Gentilla Cooper, the famous fortune-teller of the Devil's Dike, near Brighton, knew it, and when she heard it from me she was moved,—just as a very old negro in London was, when I said to him, "Sady, uncle." I said it because I had recognized by the dog's bark that it was Sam Smith's tan. Sam likes to be considered as deep Romany. He tries to learn old gypsy words, and he affects old gypsy ways. He is pleased to be called Petulengro, which means Smith. Therefore, my greeting was a compliment.

In a few minutes we were in camp and at home. We talked of many things, and among others of witches. It is remarkable that while the current English idea of a witch is that of an old woman who has sold herself to Satan, and is a distinctly marked character, just like Satan himself, that of the witch among gypsies is general and Oriental. There is no Satan in India. Mrs. Smith—since dead—held that witches were to be found everywhere. "You may know a natural witch," she said, "by certain signs. One of these is straight hair which curls at the ends. Such women have it in them."

It was only recently, as I write, that I was at a very elegant art reception, which was fully reported in the newspapers. And I was very much astonished when a lady called my attention to another young and very pretty lady, and expressed intense disgust at the way the latter wore her hair. It was simply parted in the middle, and fell down on either side, smooth as a water-fall, and then broke into curls at the ends, just as water, after falling, breaks into waves and rapids. But as she spoke, I felt it all, and saw that Mrs. Petulengro was in the right. The girl with the end-curled hair was uncanny. Her hair curled at the ends,—so did her eyes; she was a witch.

"But there's a many witches as knows clever things," said Mrs. Petulengro. "And I learned from one of them how to cure the rheumatiz. Suppose you've got the rheumatiz. Well, just you carry a potato in your pocket. As the potato dries up, your rheumatiz will go away."

Sam Smith was always known on the roads as Fighting Sam. Years have passed, and when I have asked after him I have always heard that he was either in prison or had just been let out. Once it happened that, during a fight with a Gorgio, the Gorgio's watch disappeared, and Sam was arrested under suspicion of having got up the fight in order that the watch might disappear. All of his friends declared his innocence. The next trouble was for chorin a gry, or stealing a horse, and so was the next, and so on. As horse-stealing is not a crime, but only "rough gambling," on the roads, nobody defended him on these counts. He was, so far as this went, only a sporting character. When his wife died he married Athalia, the widow of Joshua Cooper, a gypsy, of whom I shall speak anon. I always liked Sam. Among the travelers, he was always spoken of as genteel, owing to the fact, that whatever the state of his wardrobe might be, he always wore about his neck an immaculate white woolen scarf, and on jours de fete, such as horse-races, sported a boro stardi, or chimney-pot hat. O my friend, Colonel Dash, of the club! Change but the name, this fable is of thee!

"There's to be a walgoro, kaliko i sala—a fair to-morrow morning, at Cobham," said Sam, as he departed.

"All right. We'll be there."

As I went forth by the river into the night, and the stars looked down like loving eyes, there shot a meteor across the sky, one long trail of light, out of darkness into darkness, one instant bright, then dead forever. And I remembered how I once was told that stars, like mortals, often fall in love. O love, forever in thy glory go! And that they send their starry angels forth, and that the meteors are their messengers. O love, forever in thy glory go! For love and light in heaven, as on earth, were ever one, and planets speak with light. Light is their language; as they love they speak. O love, forever in thy glory go!


The walk from Oatlands Park Hotel to Cobham is beautiful with memorials of Older England. Even on the grounds there is a quaint brick gateway, which is the only relic of a palace which preceded the present pile. The grandfather was indeed a stately edifice, built by Henry VIII., improved and magnified, according to his lights, by Inigo Jones, and then destroyed during the civil war. The river is here very beautiful, and the view was once painted by Turner. It abounds in "short windings and reaches." Here it is, indeed, the Olerifera Thamesis, as it was called by Guillaume le Breton in his "Phillipeis," in the days of Richard the Lion Heart. Here the eyots and banks still recall Norman days, for they are "wild and were;" and there is even yet a wary otter or two, known to the gypsies and fishermen, which may be seen of moonlight nights plunging or swimming silently in the haunted water.

Now we pass Walton Church, and look in, that my friend may see the massy Norman pillars and arches, the fine painted glass, and the brasses. One of these represents John Selwyn, who was keeper of the royal park of Oatlands in 1587. Tradition, still current in the village, says that Selwyn was a man of wondrous strength and of rare skill in horsemanship. Once, when Queen Elizabeth was present at a stag hunt, he leaped from his horse upon the back of the stag, while both were running at full speed, kept his seat gracefully, guided the animal towards the queen, and stabbed him so deftly that he fell dead at her majesty's feet. It was daintily done, and doubtless Queen Bess, who loved a proper man, was well pleased. The brass plate represents Selwyn as riding on the stag, and there is in the village a shop where the neat old dame who presides, or her daughter, will sell you for a penny a picture of the plate, and tell you the story into the bargain. In it the valiant ranger sits on the stag, which he is stabbing through the neck with his couteau de chasse, looking meanwhile as solemn as if he were sitting in a pew and listening to De profundis. He who is great in one respect seldom fails in some other, and there is in the church another and a larger brass, from which it appears that Selwyn not only had a wife, but also eleven children, who are depicted in successive grandeur or gradation. There are monuments by Roubiliac and Chantrey in the church, and on the left side of the altar lies buried William Lilly, the great astrologer, the Sidrophel of Butler's "Hudibras." And look into the chancel. There is a tablet to his memory, which was put up by Elias Ashmole, the antiquary, who has left it in print that this "fair black marble stone" cost him 6 pounds 4s. 6d. When I was a youth, and used to pore in the old Franklin Library of Philadelphia over Lilly, I never thought that his grave would be so near my home. But a far greater literary favorite of mine lies buried in the church-yard without. This is Dr. Maginn, the author of "Father Tom and the Pope," and many another racy, subtle jest. A fellow of infinite humor,—the truest disciple of Rabelais,—and here he lies without a monument!

Summon the sexton, and let us ask him to show us the scold's, or gossip's, bridle. This is a rare curiosity, which is kept in the vestry. It would seem, from all that can be learned, that two hundred years ago there were in England viragoes so virulent, women so gifted with gab and so loaded and primed with the devil's own gunpowder, that all moral suasion was wasted on them, and simply showed, as old Reisersberg wrote, that fatue agit qui ignem conatur extinguere sulphure ('t is all nonsense to try to quench fire with brimstone). For such diavolas they had made—what the sexton is just going to show you—a muzzle of thin iron bars, which pass around the head and are padlocked behind. In front a flat piece of iron enters the mouth and keeps down the tongue. On it is the date 1633, and certain lines, no longer legible:—

"Chester presents Walton with a bridle, To curb women's tongues that talk too idle."

A sad story, if we only knew it all! What tradition tells is that long ago there was a Master Chester, who lost a fine estate through the idle, malicious clack of a gossiping, lying woman. "What is good for a bootless bene?" What he did was to endow the church with this admirable piece of head-gear. And when any woman in the parish was unanimously adjudged to be deserving of the honor, the bridle was put on her head and tongue, and she was led about town by the beadle as an example to all the scolding sisterhood. Truly, if it could only be applied to the women and men who repeat gossip, rumors reports, on dits, small slanders, proved or unproved, to all gobe-mouches, club-gabblers, tea-talkers and tattlers, chatterers, church-twaddlers, wonderers if-it-be-true-what-they-say; in fine, to the entire sister and brother hood of tongue-waggers, I for one would subscribe my mite to have one kept in every church in the world, to be zealously applied to their vile jaws. For verily the mere Social Evil is an angel of light on this earth as regards doing evil, compared to the Sociable Evil,—and thus endeth the first lesson.

We leave the church, so full of friendly memories. In this one building alone there are twenty things known to me from a boy. For from boyhood I have held in my memory those lines by Queen Elizabeth which she uttered here, and have read Lilly and Ashmole and Maginn; and this is only one corner in merrie England! Am I a stranger here? There is a father-land of the soul, which has no limits to him who, far sweeping on the wings of song and history, goes forth over many lands.

We have but a little farther to go on our way before we come to the quaint old manor-house which was of old the home of President Bradshaw, the grim old Puritan. There is an old sailor in the village, who owns a tavern, and he says, and the policeman agrees with him, that it was in this house that the death-warrant of King Charles the First was signed. Also, that there is a subterranean passage which leads from it to the Thames, which was in some way connected with battle, murder, plots, Puritans, sudden death, and politics; though how this was is more than legend can clearly explain. Whether his sacred majesty was led to execution through this cavity, or whether Charles the Second had it for one of his numerous hiding-places, or returned through it with Nell Gwynn from his exile, are other obscure points debated among the villagers. The truth is that the whole country about Walton is subterrened with strange and winding ways, leading no one knows whither, dug in the days of the monks or knights, from one long-vanished monastery or castle to the other. There is the opening to one of these hard by the hotel, but there was never any gold found in it that ever I heard of. And all the land is full of legend, and ghosts glide o' nights along the alleys, and there is an infallible fairy well at hand, named the Nun, and within a short walk stands the tremendous Crouch oak, which was known of Saxon days. Whoever gives but a little of its bark to a lady will win her love. It takes its name from croix (a cross), according to Mr. Kemble, {134} and it is twenty-four feet in girth. Its first branch, which is forty-eight feet long, shoots out horizontally, and is almost as large as the trunk. Under this tree Wickliffe preached, and Queen Elizabeth dined.

It has been well said by Irving that the English, from the great prevalence of rural habits throughout every class of society, have been extremely fond of those festivals and holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life. True, the days have gone when burlesque pageant and splendid procession made even villages magnificent. Harp and tabor and viol are no longer heard in every inn when people would be merry, and men have forgotten how to give themselves up to headlong roaring revelry. The last of this tremendous frolicking in Europe died out with the last yearly kermess in Amsterdam, and it was indeed wonderful to see with what utter abandon the usually stolid Dutch flung themselves into a rushing tide of frantic gayety. Here and there in England a spark of the old fire, lit in mediaeval times, still flickers, or perhaps flames, as at Dorking in the annual foot-ball play, which is carried on with such vigor that two or three thousand people run wild in it, while all the windows and street lamps are carefully screened for protection. But notwithstanding the gradually advancing republicanism of the age, which is dressing all men alike, bodily and mentally, the rollicking democracy of these old-fashioned festivals, in which the peasant bonneted the peer without ceremony, and rustic maids ran races en chemise for a pound of tea, is entirely too leveling for culture. There are still, however, numbers of village fairs, quietly conducted, in which there is much that is pleasant and picturesque, and this at Cobham was as pretty a bit of its kind as I ever saw. These are old-fashioned and gay in their little retired nooks, and there the plain people show themselves as they really are. The better class of the neighborhood, having no sympathy with such sports or scenes, do not visit village fairs. It is, indeed, a most exceptional thing to see any man who is a "gentleman," according to the society standard, in any fair except Mayfair in London.

Cobham is well built for dramatic display. Its White Lion Inn is of the old coaching days, and the lion on its front is a very impressive monster, one of the few relics of the days when signs were signs in spirit and in truth. In this respect the tavern keeper of to-day is a poor snob, that he thinks a sign painted or carven is degenerate and low, and therefore announces, in a line of letters, that his establishment is the Pig and Whistle, just as his remote predecessor thought it was low, or slow, or old-fashioned to dedicate his ale-shop to Pigen Wassail or Hail to the Virgin, and so changed it to a more genteel and secular form. In the public place were rows of booths arranged in streets forming imperium in imperio, a town within a town. There was of course the traditional gilt gingerbread, and the cheering but not inebriating ginger-beer, dear to the youthful palate, and not less loved by the tired pedestrian, when, mixed half and half with ale, it foams before him as shandy gaff. There, too, were the stands, presided over by jaunty, saucy girls, who would load a rifle for you and give you a prize or a certain number of shots for a shilling. You may be a good shot, but the better you shoot the less likely will you be to hit the bull's-eye with the rifle which that black-eyed Egyptian minx gives you; for it is artfully curved and false-sighted, and the rifle was made only to rifle your pocket, and the damsel to sell you with her smiles, and the doll is stuffed with sawdust, and life is not worth living for, and Miching Mallocko says it,—albeit I believe he lives at times as if there might be moments when it was forgot.

And we had not been long on the ground before we were addressed furtively and gravely by a man whom it required a second glance to recognize as Samuel Petulengro, so artfully was he disguised as a simple-seeming agriculturalist of the better lower-class. But that there remained in Sam's black eyes that glint of the Romany which nothing could disguise, one would have longed to buy a horse of him. And in the same quiet way there came, one by one, out of the crowd, six others, all speaking in subdued voices, like conspirators, and in Romany, as if it were a sin. And all were dressed rustically, and the same with intent to deceive, and all had the solemn air of very small farmers, who must sell that horse at any sacrifice. But when I saw Sam's horses I marked that his disguise of himself was nothing to the wondrous skill with which he had converted his five-pound screws into something comparatively elegant. They had been curried, clipped, singed, and beautified to the last resource, and the manner in which the finest straw had been braided into mane and tail was a miracle of art. This was jour de fete for Sam and his diddikai, or half-blood pals; his foot was on his native heath in the horse-fair, where all inside the ring knew the gypsy, and it was with pride that he invited us to drink ale, and once in the bar-room, where all assembled were jockeys and sharps, conversed loudly in Romany, in order to exhibit himself and us to admiring friends. A Romany rye, on such occasions, is to a Sam Petulengro what a scion of royalty is to minor aristocracy when it can lure him into its nets. To watch one of these small horse-dealers at a fair, and to observe the manner in which he conducts his bargains, is very curious. He lounges about all day, apparently doing nothing; he is the only idler around. Once in a while somebody approaches him and mutters something, to which he gives a brief reply. Then he goes to a tap-room or stable-yard, and is merged in a mob of his mates. But all the while he is doing sharp clicks of business. There is somebody talking to another party about that horse; somebody telling a farmer that he knows a young man as has got a likely 'oss at 'arf price, the larst of a lot which he wants to clear out, and it may be 'ad, but if the young man sees 'im [the farmer] he may put it on 'eavy.

Then the agent calls in one of the disguised Romanys to testify to the good qualities of the horse. They look at it, but the third deguise, who has it in charge, avers that it has just been sold to a gentleman. But they have another. By this time the farmer wishes he had bought the horse. When any coin slips from between our fingers, and rolls down through a grating into the sewer, we are always sure that it was a sovereign, and not a half-penny. Yes, and the fish which drops back from the line into the river is always the biggest take—or mistake—of the day. And this horse was a bargain, and the three in disguise say so, and wish they had a hundred like it. But there comes a Voice from the depths, a casual remark, offering to bet that 'ere gent won't close on that hoss. "Bet yer ten bob he will." "Done." "How do yer know he don't take the hoss?" "He carn't; he's too heavy loaded with Bill's mare. Says he'll sell it for a pound better." The farmer begins to see his way. He is shrewd; it may be that he sees through all this myth of "the gentleman." But his attention has been attracted to the horse. Perhaps he pays a little more, or "the pound better;" in greater probability he gets Sam's horse for the original price. There are many ways among gypsies of making such bargains, but the motive power of them all is taderin, or drawing the eye of the purchaser, a game not unknown to Gorgios. I have heard of a German yahud in Philadelphia, whose little boy Moses would shoot from the door with a pop-gun or squirt at passers-by, or abuse them vilely, and then run into the shop for shelter. They of course pursued him and complained to the parent, who immediately whipped his son, to the great solace of the afflicted ones. And then the afflicted seldom failed to buy something in that shop, and the corrected son received ten per cent. of the profit. The attention of the public had been drawn.

As we went about looking at people and pastimes, a Romany, I think one of the Ayres, said to me,—

"See the two policemen? They're following you two gentlemen. They saw you pallin' with Bowers. That Bowers is the biggest blackguard on the roads between London and Windsor. I don't want to hurt his charackter, but it's no bad talkin' nor dusherin of him to say that no decent Romanys care to go with him. Good at a mill? Yes, he's that. A reg'lar wastimengro, I call him. And that's why it is."

Now there was in the fair a vast institution which proclaimed by a monstrous sign and by an excessive eruption of advertisement that it was THE SENSATION OF THE AGE. This was a giant hand-organ in connection with a forty-bicycle merry-go-round, all propelled by steam. And as we walked about the fair, the two rural policemen, who had nothing better to do, shadowed or followed us, their bucolic features expressing the intensest suspicion allied to the extremest stupidity; when suddenly the Sensation of the Age struck up the Gendarme's chorus, "We'll run 'em in," from Genevieve de Brabant, and the arrangement was complete. Of all airs ever composed this was the most appropriate to the occasion, and therefore it played itself. The whole formed quite a little opera-bouffe, gypsies not being wanting. And as we came round, in our promenade, the pretty girl, with her rifle in hand, implored us to take a shot, and the walk wound up by her finally letting fly herself and ringing the bell.

That pretty girl might or might not have a touch of Romany blood in her veins, but it is worth noting that among all these show-men and show-women, acrobats, exhibitors of giants, purse-droppers, gingerbread-wheel gamblers, shilling knife-throwers, pitch-in-his-mouths, Punches, Cheap-Jacks, thimble-rigs, and patterers of every kind there is always a leaven and a suspicion of gypsiness. If there be not descent, there is affinity by marriage, familiarity, knowledge of words and ways, sweethearting and trafficking, so that they know the children of the Rom as the house-world does not know them, and they in some sort belong together. It is a muddle, perhaps, and a puzzle; I doubt if anybody quite understands it. No novelist, no writer whatever, has as yet clearly explained the curious fact that our entire nomadic population, excepting tramps, is not, as we thought in our childhood, composed of English people like ourselves. It is leavened with direct Indian blood; it has, more or less modified, a peculiar morale. It was old before the Saxon heptarchy.

I was very much impressed at this fair with the extensive and unsuspected amount of Romany existent in our rural population. We had to be satisfied, as we came late into the tavern for lunch, with cold boiled beef and carrots, of which I did not complain, as cold carrots are much nicer than warm, a fact too little understood in cookery. There were many men in the common room, mostly well dressed, and decent even if doubtful looking. I observed that several used Romany words in casual conversation. I came to the conclusion at last that all who were present knew something of it. The greatly reprobated Bowers was not himself a gypsy, but he had a gypsy wife. He lived in a cottage not far from Walton, and made baskets, while his wife roamed far and near, selling them; and I have more than once stopped and sent for a pot of ale, and shared it with Bill, listening meantime to his memories of the road as he caned chairs or "basketed." I think his reputation came rather from a certain Bohemian disregard of convenances and of appearances than from any deeply-seated sinfulness. For there are Bohemians even among gypsies; everything in this life being relative and socially-contractive. When I came to know the disreputable William well, I found in him the principles of Panurge, deeply identified with the morale of Falstaff; a wondrous fund of unbundled humor, which expressed itself more by tones than words; a wisdom based on the practices of the prize-ring; and a perfectly sympathetic admiration of my researches into Romany. One day, at Kingston Fair, as I wished to depart, I asked Bill the way to the station. "I will go with you and show you," he said. But knowing that he had business in the fair I declined his escort. He looked at me as if hurt.

"Does tute pen mandy'd chore tute?" (Do you think I would rob you or pick your pockets?) For he believed I was afraid of it. I knew Bill better. I knew that he was perfectly aware that I was about the only man in England who had a good opinion of him in any way, or knew what good there was in him. When a femme incomprise, a woman not as yet found out, discovers at last the man who is so much a master of the art of flattery as to satisfy somewhat her inordinate vanity, she is generally grateful enough to him who has thus gratified her desires to refrain from speaking ill of him, and abuse those who do, especially the latter. In like manner, Bill Bowers, who was every whit as interesting as any femme incomprise in Belgravia, or even Russell Square, believing that I had a little better opinion of him than anybody else, would not only have refrained from robbing me, but have proceeded to lam with his fists anybody else who would have done so,—the latter proceeding being, from his point of view, only a light, cheerful, healthy, and invigorating exercise, so that, as he said, and as I believe truthfully, "I'd rather be walloped than not fight." Even as my friend H. had rather lose than not play "farrer."

This was a very pretty little country fair at Cobham; pleasant and purely English. It was very picturesque, with its flags, banners, gayly bedecked booths, and mammoth placards, there being, as usual, no lack of color or objects. I wonder that Mr. Frith, who has given with such idiomatic genius the humors of the Derby, has never painted an old-fashioned rural fair like this. In a few years the last of them will have been closed, and the last gypsy will be there to look on.

There was a pleasant sight in the afternoon, when all at once, as it seemed to me, there came hundreds of pretty, rosy-cheeked children into the fair. There were twice as many of them as of grown people. I think that, the schools being over for the day, they had been sent a-fairing for a treat. They swarmed in like small bee-angels, just escaped from some upset celestial hive; they crowded around the booths, buying little toys, chattering, bargaining, and laughing, when my eye caught theirs, as though to be noticed was the very best joke in the whole world. They soon found out the Sensation of the Age, and the mammoth steam bicycle was forthwith crowded with the happy little creatures, raptured in all the glory of a ride. The cars looked like baskets full of roses. It was delightful to see them: at first like grave and stolid little Anglo-Saxons, occupied seriously with the new Sensation; then here and there beaming with thawing jollity; then smiling like sudden sun-gleams; and then laughing, until all were in one grand chorus, as the speed became greater, and the organ roared out its notes as rapidly as a runaway musical locomotive, and the steam-engine puffed in time, until a high-pressure scream told that the penn'orth of fun was up.

As we went home in the twilight, and looked back at the trees and roofs of the village, in dark silhouette against the gold-bronze sky, and heard from afar and fitfully the music of the Great Sensation mingled with the beat of a drum and the shouts of the crowd, rising and falling with the wind, I felt a little sad, that the age, in its advancing refinement, is setting itself against these old-fashioned merry-makings, and shrinking like a weakling from all out-of-doors festivals, on the plea of their being disorderly, but in reality because they are believed to be vulgar. They come down to us from rough old days; but they are relics of a time when life, if rough, was at least kind and hearty. We admire that life on the stage, we ape it in novels, we affect admiration and appreciation of its rich picturesqueness and vigorous originality, and we lie in so doing; for there is not an aesthetic prig in London who could have lived an hour in it. Truly, I should like to know what Francois Villon and Chaucer would have thought of some of their modern adorers, or what the lioness Fair-sinners of the olden time would have had to say to the nervous weaklings who try to play the genial blackguard in their praise! It is to me the best joke of the age that those who now set themselves up for priests of the old faith are the men, of all others, whom the old gods would have kicked, cum magna injuria, out of the temple. When I sit by Bill Bowers, as he baskets, and hear the bees buzz about his marigolds, or in Plato Buckland's van, or with a few hearty and true men of London town of whom I wot, then I know that the old spirit liveth in its ashes; but there is little of it, I trow, among its penny prig-trumpeters.


"Thus spoke the king to the great Master: 'Thou didst bless and ban the people; thou didst give benison and curse, luck and sorrow, to the evil or the good.'

"And the Master said, 'It may be so.'

"And the king continued, 'There came two men, and one was good and the other bad. And one thou didst bless, thinking he was good; but he was wicked. And the other thou didst curse, and thought him bad; but he was good.'

"The Master said, 'And what came of it?'

"The king answered, 'All evil came upon the good man, and all happiness to the bad.'

"And the Master said, 'I write letters, but I am not the messenger; I hunt the deer, but I am not the cook; I plant the vine, but I do not pour the wine to the guests; I ordain war, yet do not fight; I send ships forth on the sea, but do not sail them. There is many a slip between cup and lip, as the chief of the rebel spirits said when he was thrown out of heaven, and I am not greater nor wiser than he was before he fell. Hast thou any more questions, O son?'

"And the king went his way."

One afternoon I was walking with three ladies. One was married, one was a young widow, and one, no longer very young, had not as yet husbanded her resources. And as we went by the Thames, conversation turned upon many things, and among them the mystery of the future and mediums; and the widow at last said she would like to have her fortune told.

"You need not go far to have it done," I said. "There is a gypsy camp not a mile away, and in it one of the cleverest fortune-tellers in England."

"I am almost afraid to go," said the maiden lady. "It seems to me to be really wrong to try to look into the awful secrets of futurity. One can never be certain as to what a gypsy may not know. It's all very well, I dare say, to declare it's all rubbish, but then you know you never can tell what may be in a rubbish-heap, and they may be predicting true things all the time while they think they're humbugging you. And they do often foretell the most wonderful things; I know they do. My aunt was told that she would marry a man who would cause her trouble, and, sure enough, she did; and it was such a shame, she was such a sweet-tempered, timid woman, and he spent half her immense fortune. Now wasn't that wonderful?"

It would be a curious matter for those who like studying statistics and chance to find out what proportion in England of sweet-tempered, timid women of the medium-middle class, in newly-sprouted families, with immense fortunes, do not marry men who only want their money. Such heiresses are the natural food of the noble shark and the swell sucker, and even a gypsy knows it, and can read them at a glance. I explained this to the lady; but she knew what she knew, and would not know otherwise.

So we came along the rippling river, watching the darting swallows and light water-gnats, as the sun sank afar into the tawny, golden west, and Night, in ever-nearing circles, wove her shades around us. We saw the little tents, like bee-hives,—one, indeed, not larger than the hive in which Tyll Eulenspiegel slept his famous nap, and in which he was carried away by the thieves who mistook him for honey and found him vinegar. And the outposts, or advanced pickets of small, brown, black-eyed elves, were tumbling about as usual, and shouted their glad greeting; for it was only the day before that I had come down with two dozen oranges, which by chance proved to be just one apiece for all to eat except for little Synfie Cooper, who saved hers up for her father when he should return.

I had just an instant in which to give the gypsy sorceress a "straight tip," and this I did, saying in Romany that one of the ladies was married and one a widow. I was indeed quite sure that she must know the married lady as such, since she had lived near at hand, within a mile, for months. And so, with all due solemnity, the sorceress went to her work.

"You will come first, my lady, if you please," she said to the married dame, and led her into a hedge-corner, so as to be remote from public view, while we waited by the camp.

The hand was inspected, and properly crossed with a shilling, and the seeress began her prediction.

"It's a beautiful hand, my lady, and there's luck in it. The line o' life runs lovely and clear, just like a smooth river from sea to sea, and that means you'll never be in danger before you die, nor troubled with much ill. And it's written that you'll have another husband very soon."

"But I don't want another," said the lady.

"Ah, my dear lady, so you'll say till you get him, but when he comes you'll be glad enough; so do you just get the first one out of your head as soon as you can, for the next will be the better one. And you'll cross the sea and travel in a foreign land, and remember what I told you to the end of your life days."

Then the widow had her turn.

"This is a lucky hand, and little need you had to have your fortune told. You've been well married once, and once is enough when it's all you need. There's others as is never satisfied and wants everything, but you've had the best, and more you needn't want, though there'll be many a man who'll be in love with you. Ay, indeed, there's fair and dark as will feel the favor of your beautiful eyes, but little good will it do them, and barons and lords as would kiss the ground you tread on; and no wonder, either, for you have the charm which nobody can tell what it is. But it will do 'em no good, nevermore."

"Then I'm never to have another husband," said the widow.

"No, my lady. He that you married was the best of all, and, after him, you'll never need another; and that was written in your hand when you were born, and it will be your fate, forever and ever: and that is the gypsy's production over the future, and what she has producted will come true. All the stars in the fermentation of heaven can't change it. But if you ar'n't satisfied, I can set a planet for you, and try the cards, which comes more expensive, for I never do that under ten shillings."

There was a comparing of notes among the ladies and much laughter, when it appeared that the priestess of the hidden spell, in her working, had mixed up the oracles. Jacob had manifestly got Esau's blessing. It was agreed that the bonnes fortunes should be exchanged, that the shillings might not be regarded as lost, and all this was explained to the unmarried lady. She said nothing, but in due time was also dukkered or fortune-told. With the same mystery she was conducted to the secluded corner of the hedge, and a very long, low-murmuring colloquy ensued. What it was we never knew, but the lady had evidently been greatly impressed and awed. All that she would tell was that she had heard things that were "very remarkable, which she was sure no person living could have known," and in fact that she believed in the gypsy, and even the blunder as to the married lady and the widow, and all my assurances that chiromancy as popularly practiced was all humbug, made no impression. There was once "a disciple in Yabneh" who gave a hundred and fifty reasons to prove that a reptile was no more unclean than any other animal. But in those days people had not been converted to the law of turtle soup and the gospel of Saint Terrapin, so the people said it was a vain thing. And had I given a hundred and fifty reasons to this lady, they would have all been vain to her, for she wished to believe; and when our own wishes are served up unto us on nice brown pieces of the well-buttered toast of flattery, it is not hard to induce us to devour them.

It is written that when Ashmedai, or Asmodeus, the chief of all the devils of mischief, was being led a captive to Solomon, he did several mysterious things while on the way, among others bursting into extravagant laughter, when he saw a magician conjuring and predicting. On being questioned by Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, why he had seemed so much amused, Ashmedai answered that it was because the seer was at the very time sitting on a princely treasure, and he did not, with all his magic and promising fortune to others, know this. Yet, if this had been told to all the world, the conjurer's business would not have suffered. Not a bit of it. Entre Jean, passe Jeannot: one comes and goes, another takes his place, and the poor will disappear from this world before the too credulous shall have departed.

It was on the afternoon of the following day that I, by chance, met the gypsy with a female friend, each with a basket, by the roadside, in a lonely, furzy place, beyond Walton.

"You are a nice fortune-teller, aren't you now?" I said to her. "After getting a tip, which made it all as clear as day, you walk straight into the dark. And here you promise a lady two husbands, and she married already; but you never promised me two wives, that I might make merry withal. And then to tell a widow that she would never be married again! You're a bori chovihani [a great witch],—indeed, you aren't."

"Rye," said the gypsy, with a droll smile and a shrug,—I think I can see it now,—"the dukkerin [prediction] was all right, but I pet the right dukkerins on the wrong ladies."

And the Master said, "I write letters, but I am not the messenger." His orders, like the gypsy's, had been all right, but they had gone to the wrong shop. Thus, in all ages, those who affect superior wisdom and foreknowledge absolute have found that a great practical part of the real business consisted in the plausible explanation of failures. The great Canadian weather prophet is said to keep two clerks busy, one in recording his predictions, the other in explaining their failures; which is much the case with the rain-doctors in Africa, who are as ingenious and fortunate in explaining a miss as a hit, as, indeed, they need be, since they must, in case of error, submit to be devoured alive by ants,—insects which in Africa correspond in several respects to editors and critics, particularly the stinging kind. "Und ist man bei der Prophezeiung angestellt," as Heine says; "when a man has a situation in a prophecy-office," a great part of his business is to explain to the customers why it is that so many of them draw blanks, or why the trains of fate are never on time.


On a summer day, when waking dreams softly wave before the fancy, it is pleasant to walk in the noon-stillness along the Thames, for then we pass a series of pictures forming a gallery which I would not exchange for that of the Louvre, could I impress them as indelibly upon the eye-memory as its works are fixed on canvas. There exists in all of us a spiritual photographic apparatus, by means of which we might retain accurately all we have ever seen, and bring out, at will, the pictures from the pigeon-holes of the memory, or make new ones as vivid as aught we see in dreams, but the faculty must be developed in childhood. So surely as I am now writing this will become, at some future day, a branch of education, to be developed into results of which the wildest imagination can form no conception, and I put the prediction on record. As it is, I am sorry that I was never trained to this half-thinking, half-painting art, since, if I had been, I should have left for distant days to come some charming views of Surrey as it appears in this decade.

The reedy eyots and the rising hills; the level meadows and the little villes, with their antique perpendicular Gothic churches, which form the points around which they have clustered for centuries, even as groups of boats in the river are tied around their mooring-posts; the bridges and trim cottages or elegant mansions with their flower-bordered grounds sweeping down to the water's edge, looking like rich carpets with new baize over the centre, make the pictures of which I speak, varying with every turn of the Thames; while the river itself is, at this season, like a continual regatta, with many kinds of boats, propelled by stalwart young Englishmen or healthy, handsome damsels, of every rank, the better class by far predominating. There is a disposition among the English to don quaint holiday attire, to put on the picturesque, and go to the very limits which custom permits, which would astonish an American. Of late years this is becoming the case, too, in Trans-Atlantis, but it has always been usual in England, to mark the fete day with a festive dress, to wear gay ribbons, and to indulge the very harmless instinct of youth to be gallant and gay.

I had started one morning on a walk by the Thames, when I met a friend, who asked,—

"Aren't you going to-day to the Hampton races?"

"How far is it?"

"Just six miles. On Molesy Hurst."

Six miles, and I had only six shillings in my pocket. I had some curiosity to see this race, which is run on the Molesy Hurst, famous as the great place for prize-fighting in the olden time, and which has never been able to raise itself to respectability, inasmuch as the local chronicler says that "the course attracts considerable and not very reputable gatherings." In fact, it is generally spoken of as the Costermonger's race, at which a mere welsher is a comparatively respectable character, and every man in a good coat a swell. I was nicely attired, by chance, for the occasion, for I had come out, thinking of a ride, in a white hat, new corduroy pantaloons and waistcoat, and a velveteen coat, which dress is so greatly admired by the gypsies that it may almost be regarded as their "national costume."

There was certainly, to say the least, a rather bourgeois tone at the race, and gentility was conspicuous by its absence; but I did not find it so outrageously low as I had been led to expect. I confess that I was not encouraged to attempt to increase my little hoard of silver by betting, and the certainty that if I lost I could not lunch made me timid. But the good are never alone in this world, and I found friends whom I dreamed not of. Leaving the crowd, I sought the gypsy vans, and by one of these was old Liz Buckland.

"Sarishan rye! And glad I am to see you. Why didn't you come down into Kent to see the hoppin'? Many a time the Romanys says they expected to see their rye there. Just the other night, your Coopers was a-lyin' round their fire, every one of 'em in a new red blanket, lookin' so beautiful as the light shone on 'em, and I says, 'If our rye was to see you, he'd just have that book of his out, and take all your pictures.'"

After much gossip over absent friends, I said,—

"Well, dye, I stand a shilling for beer, and that's all I can do to-day, for I've come out with only shove trin-grushi."

Liz took the shilling, looked at it and at me with an earnest air, and shook her head.

"It'll never do, rye,—never. A gentleman wants more than six shillin's to see a race through, and a reg'lar Romany rye like you ought to slap down his lovvo with the best of 'em for the credit of his people. And if you want a bar [a pound] or two, I'll lend you the money, and never fear about your payment."

It was kind of the old dye, but I thought that I would pull through on my five shillings, before I would draw on the Romany bank. To be considered with sincere sympathy, as an object of deserving charity, on the lowest race-ground in England, and to be offered eleemosynary relief by a gypsy, was, indeed, touching the hard pan of humiliation. I went my way, idly strolling about, mingling affably with all orders, for my watch was at home. Vacuus viator cantabit. As I stood by a fence, I heard a gentlemanly-looking young man, who was evidently a superior pickpocket, or "a regular fly gonoff," say to a friend,—

"She's on the ground,—a great woman among the gypsies. What do they call her?"

"Mrs. Lee."

"Yes. A swell Romany she is."

Whenever one hears an Englishman, not a scholar, speak of gypsies as "Romany," he may be sure that man is rather more on the loose than becomes a steady citizen, and that he walks in ways which, if not of darkness, are at least in a shady demi-jour, with a gentle down grade. I do not think there was anybody on the race-ground who was not familiar with the older word.

It began to rain, and before long my new velveteen coat was very wet. I looked among the booths for one where I might dry myself and get something to eat, and, entering the largest, was struck by the appearance of the landlady. She was a young and decidedly pretty woman, nicely dressed, and was unmistakably gypsy. I had never seen her before, but I knew who she was by a description I had heard. So I went up to the bar and spoke:—

"How are you, Agnes?"

"Bloomin'. What will you have, sir?"

"Dui curro levinor, yeck for tute, yeck for mandy." (Two glasses for ale,—one for you, one for me.)

She looked up with a quick glance and a wondering smile, and then said,—

"You must be the Romany rye of the Coopers. I'm glad to see you. Bless me, how wet you are. Go to the fire and dry yourself. Here, Bill, I say! Attend to this gentleman."

There was a tremendous roaring fire at the farther end of the booth, at which were pieces of meat, so enormous as to suggest a giant's roast or a political barbecue rather than a kitchen. I glanced with some interest at Bill, who came to aid me. In all my life I never saw a man who looked so thoroughly the regular English bull-dog bruiser of the lowest type, but battered and worn out. His nose, by oft-repeated pummeling, had gradually subsided almost to a level with his other features, just as an ancient British grave subsides, under the pelting storms of centuries, into equality with the plain. His eyes looked out from under their bristly eaves like sleepy wild-cats from a pig-pen, and his physique was tremendous. He noticed my look of curiosity.

"Old Bruisin' Bill, your honor. I was well knowed in the prize-ring once. Been in the newspapers. Now, you mus'n't dry your coat that way! New welweteen ought always to be wiped afore you dry it. I was a gamekeeper myself for six years, an' wore it all that time nice and proper, I did, and know how may be you've got a thrip'ny bit for old Bill. Thanky."

I will do Mrs. Agnes Wynn the credit to say that in her booth the best and most abundant meal that I ever saw for the price in England was given for eighteen pence. Fed and dried, I was talking with her, when there came up a pretty boy of ten, so neat and well dressed and altogether so nice that he might have passed current for a gentleman's son anywhere.

"Well, Agnes. You're Wynn by name and winsome by nature, and all the best you have has gone into that boy. They say you gypsies used to steal children. I think it's time to turn the tables, and when I take the game up I'll begin by stealing your chavo."

Mrs. Wynn looked pleased. "He is a good boy, as good as he looks, and he goes to school, and don't keep low company."

Here two or three octoroon, duodecaroon, or vigintiroon Romany female friends of the landlady came up to be introduced to me, and of course to take something at my expense for the good of the house. This they did in the manner specially favored by gypsies; that is to say, a quart of ale, being ordered, was offered first to me, in honor of my social position, and then passed about from hand to hand. This rite accomplished, I went forth to view the race. The sun had begun to shine again, the damp flags and streamers had dried themselves in its cheering rays, even as I had renewed myself at Dame Wynn's fire, and I crossed the race-course. The scene was lively, picturesque, and thoroughly English. There are certain pleasures and pursuits which, however they may be perfected in other countries, always seem to belong especially to England, and chief among these is the turf. As a fresh start was made, as the spectators rushed to the ropes, roaring with excitement, and the horses swept by amid hurrahs, I could realize the sympathetic feeling which had been developed in all present by ancient familiarity and many associations with such scenes. Whatever the moral value of these may be, it is certain that anything so racy with local color and so distinctly fixed in popular affection as the race will always appeal to the artist and the student of national scenes.

I found Old Liz lounging with Old Dick, her husband, on the other side. There was a canvas screen, eight feet high, stretched as a background to stop the sticks hurled by the players at "coker-nuts," while the nuts themselves, each resting on a stick five feet high, looked like disconsolate and starved spectres, waiting to be cruelly treated. In company with the old couple was a commanding-looking, eagle-eyed Romany woman, in whom I at once recognized the remarkable gypsy spoken of by the pickpocket.

"My name is Lee," she said, in answer to my greeting. "What is yours?"


"Yes, you have added land to the lee. You are luckier than I am. I'm a Lee without land."

As she spoke she looked like an ideal Meg Merrilies, and I wished I had her picture. It was very strange that I made the wish at that instant, for just then she was within an ace of having it taken, and therefore arose and went away to avoid it. An itinerant photographer, seeing me talking with the gypsies, was attempting, though I knew it not, to take the group. But the keen eye of the Romany saw it all, and she went her way, because she was of the real old kind, who believe it is unlucky to have their portraits taken. I used to think that this aversion was of the same kind as that which many good men evince in a marked manner when requested by the police to sit for their photographs for the rogues' gallery. But here I did the gypsies great injustice; for they will allow their likenesses to be taken if you will give them a shoe-string. That this old superstition relative to the binding and loosing of ill-luck by the shoe-string should exist in this connection is of itself curious. In the earliest times the shoe-latchet brought luck, just as the shoe itself did, especially when filled with corn or rice, and thrown after the bride. It is a great pity that the ignorant Gentiles, who are so careful to do this at every wedding, do not know that it is all in vain unless they cry aloud in Hebrew, "Peru urphu!" {159} with all their might when the shoe is cast, and that the shoe should be filled with rice.

She went away, and in a few minutes the photographer came in great glee to show a picture which he had taken.

"'Ere you are, sir. An elegant photograph, surroundin' sentimental scenery and horiental coker-nuts thrown in,—all for a diminitive little shillin'."

"Now that time you missed it," I said; "for on my honor as a gentleman, I have only ninepence in all my pockets."

"A gent like you with only ninepence!" said the artist.

"If he hasn't got money in his pocket now," said Old Liz, speaking up in my defense, "he has plenty at home. He has given pounds and pounds to us gypsies."

"Dovo's a huckaben," I said to her in Romany. "Mandy kekker delled tute kumi'n a trin-grushi." (That is untrue. I never gave you more than a shilling.)

"Anyhow," said Liz, "ninepence is enough for it." And the man, assenting, gave it to me. It was a very good picture, and I have since had several copies taken of it.

"Yes, rya," said Old Liz, when I regretted the absence of my Lady Lee, and talked with her about shoe-strings and old shoes, and how necessary it was to cry out "Peru urphu!" when you throw them,—"yes. That's the way the Gorgis always half does things. You see 'em get a horse-shoe off the roads, and what do they do with it! Goes like dinneli idiots and nails it up with the p'ints down, which, as is well beknown, brings all the bad luck there is flyin' in the air into the house, and taders chovihanees [draws witches] like anise-seed does rats. Now common sense ought to teach that the shoe ought to be put like horns, with the p'ints up. For if it's lucky to put real horns up, of course the horse-shoe goes the same drom [road]. And it's lucky to pick up a red string in the morning,—yes, or at any time; but it's sure love from a girl if you do,—specially silk. And if so be she gives you a red string or cord, or a strip of red stuff, that means she'll be bound to you and loves you."


London, during hot weather, after the close of the wise season, suggests to the upper ten thousand, and to the lower twenty thousand who reflect their ways, and to the lowest millions who minister to them all, a scene of doleful dullness. I call the time which has passed wise, because that which succeeds is universally known as the silly season. Then the editors in town have recourse to the American newspapers for amusing murders, while their rural brethren invent great gooseberries. Then the sea-serpent again lifts his awful head. I am always glad when this sterling inheritance of the Northern races reappears; for while we have him I know that the capacity for swallowing a big bouncer, or for inventing one, is not lost. He is characteristic of a fine, bold race. Long may he wave! It is true that we cannot lie as gloriously as our ancestors did about him. When the great news-dealer of Norse times had no home-news he took his lyre, and either spun a yarn about Vinland such as would smash the "Telegraph," or else sung about "that sea-snake tremendous curled, whose girth encircles half the world." It is wonderful, it is awful, to consider how true we remain to the traditions of the older time. The French boast that they invented the canard. Let them boast. They also invented the shirt-collar; but hoary legends say that an Englishman invented the shirt for it, as well as the art of washing it. What the shirt is to the collar, that is the glorious, tough old Northern saga, or maritime spun yarn, to the canard, or duck. The yarn will wash; it passes into myth and history; it fits exactly, because it was made to order; its age and glory illustrate the survival of the fittest.

I have, during three or four summers, remained a month in London after the family had taken flight to the sea-side. I stayed to finish books promised for the autumn. It is true that nearly four million of people remain in London during the later summer; but it is wonderful what an influence the absence of a few exerts on them and on the town. Then you realize by the long lines of idle vehicles in the ranks how few people in this world can afford a cab; then you find out how scanty is the number of those who buy goods at the really excellent shops; and then you may finally find out by satisfactory experience, if you are inclined to grumble at your lot in life or your fortune, how much better off you are than ninety-nine in a hundred of your fellow-murmurers at fate.

It was my wont to walk out in the cool of the evening, to smoke my cigar in Regent's Park, seated on a bench, watching the children as they played about the clock-and-bull fountain,—for it embraces these objects among its adornments,—presented by Cowasie Jehanguire, who added to these magnificent Persian names the prosaic English postscript of Ready Money. In this his name sets forth the history of his Parsee people, who, from being heroic Ghebers, have come down to being bankers, who can "do" any Jew, and who might possibly tackle a Yankee so long as they kept out of New Jersey. One evening I walked outside of the Park, passing by the Gloucester Bridge to a little walk or boulevard, where there are a few benches. I was in deep moon-shadow, formed by the trees; only the ends of my boots shone like eyes in the moonlight as I put them out. After a while I saw a nice-looking young girl, of the humble-decent class, seated by me, and with her I entered into casual conversation. On the bench behind us were two young Italians, conversing in strongly marked Florentine dialect. They evidently thought that no one could understand them; as they became more interested they spoke more distinctly, letting out secrets which I by no means wished to hear.

At that instant I recalled the famous story of Prince Bismarck and the Esthonian young ladies and the watch-key. I whispered to the girl,—

"When I say something to you in a language which you do not understand, answer 'Si' as distinctly as you can."

The damsel was quick to understand. An instant after I said,—

"Ha veduto il mio 'havallo la sera?"


There was a dead silence, and then a rise and a rush. My young friend rolled her eyes up at me, but said nothing. The Italians had departed with their awful mysteries. Then there came by a man who looked much worse. He was a truculent, untamable rough, evidently inspired with gin. At a glance I saw by the manner in which he carried his coat that he was a traveler, or one who lived on the roads. Seeing me he stopped, and said, grimly,—"Do you love your Jesus?" This is certainly a pious question; but it was uttered in a tone which intimated that if I did not answer it affirmatively I might expect anything but Christian treatment. I knew why the man uttered it. He had just come by an open-air preaching in the Park, and the phrase had, moreover, been recently chalked and stenciled by numerous zealous and busy nonconformists all over northwestern London. I smiled, and said, quietly,—

"Pal, mor rakker sa drovan. Ja pukenus on the drum." (Don't talk so loud, brother. Go away quietly.)

The man's whole manner changed. As if quite sober, he said,—

"Mang your shunaben, rye. But tute jins chomany. Kushti ratti!" (Beg your pardon, sir. But you do know a thing or two. Good-night!)

"I was awfully frightened," said the young girl, as the traveler departed. "I'm sure he meant to pitch into us. But what a wonderful way you have, sir, of sending people away! I wasn't so much astonished when you got rid of the Italians. I suppose ladies and gentlemen know Italian, or else they wouldn't go to the opera. But this man was a common, bad English tramp; yet I'm sure he spoke to you in some kind of strange language, and you said something to him that changed him into as peaceable as could be. What was it?"

"It was gypsy, young lady,—what the gypsies talk among themselves."

"Do you know, sir, I think you're the most mysterious gentleman I ever met."

"Very likely. Good-night."

"Good night, sir."

I was walking with my friend the Palmer, one afternoon in June, in one of the several squares which lie to the west of the British Museum. As we went I saw a singular-looking, slightly-built man, lounging at a corner. He was wretchedly clad, and appeared to be selling some rudely-made, but curious contrivances of notched sticks, intended to contain flowerpots. He also had flower-holders made of twisted copper wire. But the greatest curiosity was the man himself. He had such a wild, wasted, wistful expression, a face marked with a life of almost unconscious misery. And most palpable in it was the unrest, which spoke of an endless struggle with life, and had ended by goading him into incessant wandering. I cannot imagine what people can be made of who can look at such men without emotion.

"That is a gypsy," I said to the Palmer. "Sarishan, pal!"

The wanderer seemed to be greatly pleased to hear Romany. He declared that he was in the habit of talking it so much to himself when alone that his ordinary name was Romany Dick.

"But if you come down to the Potteries, and want to find me, you mus'n't ask for Romany Dick, but Divius Dick." "That means Wild Dick." "Yes." "And why?" "Because I wander about so, and can never stay more than a night in any one place. I can't help it. I must keep going." He said this with that wistful, sad expression, a yearning as for something which he had never comprehended. Was it rest?

"And so I rakker Romany [talk gypsy to myself], when I'm alone of a night, when the wind blows. It's better company than talkin' Gorginess. More sociable. He says—no—I say more sensible things Romaneskas than in English. You understand me?" he exclaimed suddenly, with the same wistful stare.

"Perfectly. It's quite reasonable. It must be like having two heads instead of one, and being twice as knowing as anybody else."

"Yes, that's it. But everybody don't know it."

"What do you ask for one of those flower-stands, Dick?"

"A shillin', sir."

"Well, here is my name and where I live, on an envelope. And here are two shillings. But if you chore mandy [cheat me] and don't leave it at the house, I'll look you up in the Potteries, and koor tute [whip you]."

He looked at me very seriously. "Ah, yes. You could koor me kenna [whip me now]. But you couldn't have koored my dadas [whipped my father]. Leastways not afore he got his leg broken fightin' Lancaster Sam. You must have heard of my father,—Single-stick Dick. But if your're comin' down to the Potteries, don't come next Sunday. Come Sunday three weeks. My brother is stardo kenna for chorin a gry [in prison for horse-stealing]. In three weeks he'll be let out, and we're goin' to have a great family party to welcome him, and we'll be glad to see you. Do come."

The flower-stand was faithfully delivered, but another engagement prevented an acceptance of the invitation, and I have never seen Dick since.

* * * * *

I was walking along Marylebone Road, which always seems to be a worn and wind-beaten street, very pretty once, and now repenting it; when just beyond Baker Street station I saw a gypsy van hung all round with baskets and wooden-ware. Smoke issued from its pipe, and it went along smoking like any careless pedestrian. It always seems strange to think of a family being thus conveyed with its dinner cooking, the children playing about the stove, over rural roads, past common and gorse and hedge, in and out of villages, and through Great Babylon itself, as if the family had a pied a terre, and were as secluded all the time as though they lived in Little Pedlington or Tinnecum. For they have just the same narrow range of gossip, and just the same set of friends, though the set are always on the move. Traveling does not make a cosmopolite.

By the van strolled the lord and master, with his wife. I accosted him.


"Sarishan rye!"

"Did you ever see me before? Do you know me?"

"No, sir."

"I'm sorry for that. I have a nice velveteen coat which I have been keeping for your father. How's your brother Frank? Traveling about Kingston, I suppose. As usual. But I don't care about trusting the coat to anybody who don't know me."

"I'll take it to him, safe enough, sir."

"Yes, I dare say. On your back. And wear it yourself six months before you see him."

Up spoke his wife: "That he shan't. I'll take good care that the pooro mush [the old man] gets it all right, in a week."

"Well, dye, I can trust you. You remember me. And, Anselo, here is my address. Come to the house in half an hour."

In half an hour the housekeeper, said with a quiet smile,—

"If you please, sir, there's a gentleman—a gypsy gentleman—wishes to see you."

It is an English theory that the master can have no "visitors" who are not gentlemen. I must admit that Anselo's dress was not what could be called gentlemanly. From his hat to his stout shoes he looked the impenitent gypsy and sinful poacher, unaffected and natural. There was a cutaway, sporting look about his coat which indicated that he had grown to it from boyhood "in woodis grene." He held a heavy-handled whip, a regular Romany tchupni or chuckni, which Mr. Borrow thinks gave rise to the word "jockey." I thought the same once, but have changed my mind, for there were "jockeys" in England before gypsies. Altogether, Anselo (which comes from Wenceslas) was a determined and vigorous specimen of an old-fashioned English gypsy, a type which, with all its faults, is not wanting in sundry manly virtues.

I knew that Anselo rarely entered any houses save ale-houses, and that he had probably never before been in a study full of books, arms, and bric-a-brac. And he knew that I was aware of it. Now, if he had been more of a fool, like a red Indian or an old-fashioned fop, he would have affected a stoical indifference, for fear of showing his ignorance. As it was, he sat down in an arm-chair, glanced about him, and said just the right thing.

"It must be a pleasant thing, at the end of the day, after one has been running about, to come home to such a room as this, so full of fine things, and sit down in such a comfortable chair." "Will I have a glass of old ale? Yes, I thank you." "That is kushto levinor [good ale]. I never tasted better." "Would I rather have wine or spirits? No, I thank you; such ale as this is fit for a king."

Here Anselo's keen eye suddenly rested on something which he understood.

"What a beautiful little rifle! That's what I call a rinkno yag-engree [pretty gun]."

"Has it been a wafedo wen [hard winter], Anselo?"

"It has been a dreadful winter, sir. We have been hard put to it sometimes for food. It's dreadful to think of. I've acti'lly seen the time when I was almost desperated, and if I'd had such a gun as that I'm afraid, if I'd been tempted, I could a-found it in my heart to knock over a pheasant."

I looked sympathetically at Anselo. The idea of his having been brought to the very brink of such a terrible temptation and awful crime was touching. He met the glance with the expression of a good man, who had done no more than his duty, closed his eyes, and softly shook his head. Then he took another glass of ale, as if the memory of the pheasants or something connected with the subject had been too much for him, and spoke:—

"I came here on my horse. But he's an ugly old white punch. So as not to discredit you, I left him standing before a gentleman's house, two doors off."

Here Anselo paused. I acknowledged this touching act of thoughtful delicacy by raising my glass. He drank again, then resumed:—

"But I feel uneasy about leaving a horse by himself in the streets of London. He'll stand like a driven nail wherever you put him—but there's always plenty of claw-hammers to draw such nails."

"Don't be afraid, Anselo. The park-keeper will not let anybody take him through the gates. I'll pay for him if he goes."

But visions of a stolen horse seemed to haunt Anselo. One would have thought that something of the kind had been familiar to him. So I sent for the velveteen coat, and, folding it on his arm, he mounted the old white horse, while waving an adieu with the heavy-handled whip, rode away in the mist, and was seen no more.

Farewell, farewell, thou old brown velveteen! I had thee first in by-gone years, afar, hunting ferocious fox and horrid hare, near Brighton, on the Downs, and wore thee well on many a sketching tour to churches old and castles dark or gray, when winter went with all his raines wete. Farewell, my coat, and benedicite! I bore thee over France unto Marseilles, and on the steamer where we took aboard two hundred Paynim pilgrims of Mahound. Farewell, my coat, and benedicite! Thou wert in Naples by great Virgil's tomb, and borest dust from Posilippo's grot, and hast been wetted by the dainty spray from bays and shoals of old Etrurian name. Farewell, my coat, and benedicite! And thou wert in the old Egyptian realm: I had thee on that morning 'neath the palms when long I lingered where of yore had stood the rose-red city, half as old as time. Farewell, my coat, and benedicite! It was a lady called thee into life. She said, Methinks ye need a velvet coat. It is a seemly guise to ride to hounds. Another gave me whip and silvered spurs. Now all have vanished in the darkening past. Ladies and all are gone into the gloom. Farewell, my coat, and benedicite. Thou'st had a venturous and traveled life, for thou wert once in Moscow in the snow. A true Bohemian thou hast ever been, and as a right Bohemian thou wilt die, the garment of a roving Romany. Fain would I see and hear what thou'rt to know of reckless riding and the gypsy tan, of camps in dark green lanes, afar from towns. Farewell, mine coat, and benedicite!


One morning I was walking with Mr. Thomas Carlyle and Mr. Froude. We went across Hyde Park, and paused to rest on the bridge. This is a remarkable place, since there, in the very heart of London, one sees a view which is perfectly rural. The old oaks rise above each other like green waves, the houses in the distance are country-like, while over the trees, and far away, a village-looking spire completes the picture. I think that it was Mr. Froude who called my attention to the beauty of the view, and I remarked that it needed only a gypsy tent and the curling smoke to make it in all respects perfectly English.

"You have paid some attention to gypsies," said Mr. Carlyle. "They're not altogether so bad a people as many think. In Scotland, we used to see many of them. I'll not say that they were not rovers and reivers, but they could be honest at times. The country folk feared them, but those who made friends wi' them had no cause to complain of their conduct. Once there was a man who was persuaded to lend a gypsy a large sum of money. My father knew the man. It was to be repaid at a certain time. The day came; the gypsy did not. And months passed, and still the creditor had nothing of money but the memory of it; and ye remember 'nessun maggior dolore,'—that there's na greater grief than to remember the siller ye once had. Weel, one day the man was surprised to hear that his frien' the gypsy wanted to see him—interview, ye call it in America. And the gypsy explained that, having been arrested, and unfortunately detained, by some little accident, in preeson, he had na been able to keep his engagement. 'If ye'll just gang wi' me,' said the gypsy, 'aw'll mak' it all right.' 'Mon, aw wull,' said the creditor,—they were Scotch, ye know, and spoke in deealect. So the gypsy led the way to the house which he had inhabited, a cottage which belonged to the man himself to whom he owed the money. And there he lifted up the hearthstone; the hard-stane they call it in Scotland, and it is called so in the prophecy of Thomas of Ercildowne. And under the hard-stane there was an iron pot. It was full of gold, and out of that gold the gypsy carle paid his creditor. Ye wonder how 't was come by? Well, ye'll have heard it's best to let sleeping dogs lie."

"Yes. And what was said of the Poles who had, during the Middle Ages, a reputation almost as good as that of gypsies? Ad secretas Poli, curas extendere noli." (Never concern your soul as to the secrets of a Pole.)

Mr. Carlyle's story reminds me that Walter Simpson, in his history of them, says that the Scottish gypsies have ever been distinguished for their gratitude to those who treated them with civility and kindness, anent which he tells a capital story, while other instances sparkle here and there with many brilliant touches in his five hundred-and-fifty-page volume.

I have more than once met with Romanys, when I was in the company of men who, like Carlyle and Bilderdijk, "were also in the world of letters known," or who might say, "We have deserved to be." One of the many memories of golden days, all in the merrie tyme of summer song in England, is of the Thames, and of a pleasure party in a little steam-launch. It was a weenie affair,—just room for six forward outside the cubby, which was called the cabin; and of these six, one was Mr. Roebuck,—"the last Englishman," as some one has called him, but as the late Lord Lytton applies the same term to one of his characters about the time of the Conquest, its accuracy may be doubted. Say the last type of a certain phase of the Englishman; say that Roebuck was the last of the old iron and oak men, the triplex aes et robur chiefs of the Cobbet kind, and the phrase may pass. But it will only pass over into a new variety of true manhood. However frequently the last Englishman may die, I hope it will be ever said of him, Le roi est mort,—vive le roi! I have had talks with Lord Lytton on gypsies. He, too, was once a Romany rye in a small way, and in the gay May heyday of his young manhood once went off with a band of Romanys, and passed weeks in their tents,—no bad thing, either, for anybody. I was more than once tempted to tell him the strange fact that, though he had been among the black people and thought he had learned their language, what they had imposed upon him for that was not Romany, but cant, or English thieves' slang. For what is given, in good faith, as the gypsy tongue in "Paul Clifford" and the "Disowned," is only the same old mumping kennick which was palmed off on Bampfylde Moore Carew; or which he palmed on his readers, as the secret of the Roms. But what is the use or humanity of disillusioning an author by correcting an error forty years old. If one could have corrected it in the proof, a la bonne heure! Besides, it was of no particular consequence to anybody whether the characters in "Paul Clifford" called a clergyman a patter-cove or a rashai. It is a supreme moment of triumph for a man when he discovers that his specialty—whatever it be—is not of such value as to be worth troubling anybody with it. As for Everybody, he is fair game.

The boat went up the Thames, and I remember that the river was, that morning, unusually beautiful. It is graceful, as in an outline, even when leaden with November mists, or iron-gray in the drizzle of December, but under the golden sunlight of June it is lovely. It becomes every year, with gay boating parties in semi-fancy dresses, more of a carnival, in which the carnivalers and their carnivalentines assume a more decided character. It is very strange to see this tendency of the age to unfold itself in new festival forms, when those who believe that there can never be any poetry or picturing in life but in the past are wailing over the vanishing of May-poles and old English sports. There may be, from time to time, a pause between the acts; the curtain may be down a little longer than usual; but in the long run the world-old play of the Peoples' Holiday will go on, as it has been going ever since Satan suggested that little apple-stealing excursion to Eve, which, as explained by the Talmudists, was manifestly the direct cause of all the flirtations and other dreadful doings in all little outings down to the present day, in the drawing-room or "on the leads," world without end.

And as the boat went along by Weybridge we passed a bank by which was a small gypsy camp; tents and wagons, donkeys and all, reflected in the silent stream, as much as were the swans in the fore-water. And in the camp was a tall, handsome, wild beauty, named Britannia, who knew me well; a damsel fond of larking, with as much genuine devil's gunpowder in her as would have made an entire pack or a Chinese hundred of sixty-four of the small crackers known as fast girls, in or around society. She was a splendid creature, long and lithe and lissom, but well rounded, of a figure suggestive of leaping hedges; and as the sun shone on her white teeth and burning black eyes, there was a hint of biting, too, about her. She lay coiled and basking, in feline fashion, in the sun; but at sight of me on the boat, up she bounded, and ran along the bank, easily keeping up with the steamer, and crying out to me in Romanes.

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