The Gypsies
by Charles G. Leland
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Now it just so happened that I by no means felt certain that all of the company present were such genial Bohemians as to appreciate anything like the joyous intimacy which Britannia was manifesting, as she, Atalanta-like, coursed along. Consequently, I was not delighted with her attentions.

"What a fine girl!" said Mr. Roebuck. "How well she would look on the stage! She seems to know you."

"Certainly," said one of the ladies, "or she would not be speaking her language. Why don't you answer her? Let us hear a conversation."

Thus adjured, I answered,—

"_Miri pen_, _miri kushti pen_, _beng lel tute_, _ma rakker sa drovan_! _Or ma rakker Romaneskas_. _Man dikesa te rania shan akai_. _Miri kameli_—_man kair _mandy ladge_!" (My sister, my nice, sweet sister!—devil take you! don't hallo at me like that! Or else don't talk Romany. Don't you see there are ladies here? My dear, don't put me to shame!)

"Pen the rani ta wusser mandy a trin-grushiwhoop, hallo!" (Tell the lady to shy me a shilling—whoop!) cried the fast damsel.

"Pa miri duvels kam, peno bero se ta duro. Mandy'll de tute a pash-korauna keratti if tu tevel ja. Gorgie shan i foki kavakoi!" (For the Lord's sake, sister!—the boat is too far from shore. I'll give you half a crown this evening if you'll clear out. These be Gentiles, these here.)

"It seems to be a melodious language," said Mr. Roebuck, greatly amused. "What are you saying?"

"I am telling her to hold her tongue, and go."

"But how on earth does it happen that you speak such a language?" inquired a lady. "I always thought that the gypsies only talked a kind of English slang, and this sounds like a foreign tongue."

All this time Britannia, like the Cork Leg, never tired, but kept on the chase, neck and neck, till we reached a lock, when, with a merry laugh like a child, she turned on her track and left us.

"Mr. L.'s proficiency in Romany," said Mr. Roebuck, "is well known to me. I have heard him spoken of as the successor to George Borrow."

"That," I replied, "I do not deserve. There are other gentlemen in England who are by far my superiors in knowledge of the people."

And I spoke very sincerely. Apropos of Mr. George Borrow, I knew him, and a grand old fellow he was,—a fresh and hearty giant, holding his six feet two or three inches as uprightly at eighty as he ever had at eighteen. I believe that was his age, but may be wrong. Borrow was like one of the old Norse heroes, whom he so much admired, or an old-fashioned gypsy bruiser, full of craft and merry tricks. One of these he played on me, and I bear him no malice for it. The manner of the joke was this: I had written a book on the English gypsies and their language; but before I announced it, I wrote a letter to Father George, telling him that I proposed to print it, and asking his permission to dedicate it to him. He did not answer the letter, but "worked the tip" promptly enough, for he immediately announced in the newspapers on the following Monday his "Word-Book of the Romany Language," "with many pieces in gypsy, illustrative of the way of speaking and thinking of the English gypsies, with specimens of their poetry, and an account of various things relating to gypsy life in England." This was exactly what I had told him that my book would contain; for I intended originally to publish a vocabulary. Father George covered the track by not answering my letter; but I subsequently ascertained that it had been faithfully delivered to him by a gentleman from whom I obtained the information.

It was like the contest between Hildebrand the elder and his son:—

"A ready trick tried Hildebrand, That old, gray-bearded man; For when the younger raised to strike, Beneath his sword he ran."

And, like the son, I had no ill feeling about it. My obligations to him for "Lavengro" and the "Romany Rye" and his other works are such as I owe to few men. I have enjoyed gypsying more than any sport in the world, and I owe my love of it all to George Borrow. I have since heard that a part of Mr. Borrow's "Romano Lavo-Lil" had been in manuscript for thirty years, and that it might never have been published but for my own work. I hope that this is true; for I am sincerely proud to think that I may have been in any way, directly or indirectly, the cause of his giving it to the world. I would gladly enough have burnt my own book, as I said, with a hearty laugh, when I saw the announcement of the "Lavo-Lil," if it would have pleased the old Romany rye, and I never spoke a truer word. He would not have believed it; but it would have been true, all the same.

I well remember the first time I met George Borrow. It was in the British Museum, and I was introduced to him by Mrs. Estelle Lewis,—now dead,—the well known-friend of Edgar A. Poe. He was seated at a table, and had a large old German folio open before him. We talked about gypsies, and I told him that I had unquestionably found the word for "green," shelno, in use among the English Romany. He assented, and said that he knew it. I mention this as a proof of the manner in which the "Romano Lavo-Lil" must have been hurried, because he declares in it that there is no English gypsy word for "green." In this work he asserts that the English gypsy speech does not probably amount to fourteen hundred words. It is a weakness with the Romany rye fraternity to believe that there are no words in gypsy which they to not know. I am sure that my own collection contains nearly four thousand Anglo-Romany terms, many of which I feared were doubtful, but which I am constantly verifying. America is a far better place in which to study the language than England. As an old Scotch gypsy said to me lately, the deepest and cleverest old gypsies all come over here to America, where they have grown rich, and built the old language up again.

I knew a gentleman in London who was a man of extraordinary energy. Having been utterly ruined, at seventy years of age, by a relative, he left England, was absent two or three years in a foreign country, during which time he made in business some fifty thousand pounds, and, returning, settled down in England. He had been in youth for a long time the most intimate friend of George Borrow, who was, he said, a very wild and eccentric youth. One night, when skylarking about London, Borrow was pursued by the police, as he wished to be, even as Panurge so planned as to be chased by the night-watch. He was very tall and strong in those days, a trained shoulder-hitter, and could run like a deer. He was hunted to the Thames, "and there they thought they had him." But the Romany rye made for the edge, and, leaping into the wan water, like the Squyre in the old ballad, swam to the other side, and escaped.

I have conversed with Mr. Borrow on many subjects,—horses, gypsies, and Old Irish. Anent which latter subject I have heard him declare that he doubted whether there was any man living who could really read an old Irish manuscript. I have seen the same statement made by another writer. My personal impressions of Mr. Borrow were very agreeable, and I was pleased to learn afterwards from Mrs. Lewis that he had expressed himself warmly as regarded myself. As he was not invariably disposed to like those whom be met, it is a source of great pleasure to me to reflect that I have nothing but pleasant memories of the good old Romany rye, the Nestor of gypsy gentlemen. It is commonly reported among gypsies that Mr. Borrow was one by blood, and that his real name was Boro, or great. This is not true. He was of pure English extraction.

When I first met "George Eliot" and G. H. Lewes, at their house in North Bank, the lady turned the conversation almost at once to gypsies. They spoke of having visited the Zincali in Spain, and of several very curious meetings with the Chabos. Mr. Lewes, in fact, seldom met me—and we met very often about town, and at many places, especially at the Trubners'—without conversing on the Romanys. The subject evidently had for him a special fascination. I believe that I have elsewhere mentioned that after I returned from Russia, and had given him, by particular request, an account of my visits to the gypsies of St. Petersburg and Moscow, he was much struck by the fact that I had chiromanced to the Romany clan of the latter city. To tell the fortunes of gypsy girls was, he thought, the refinement of presumption. "There was in this world nothing so impudent as a gypsy when determined to tell a fortune; and the idea of not one, but many gypsy girls believing earnestly in my palmistry was like a righteous retribution."

The late Tom Taylor had, while a student at Cambridge, been aficionado, or smitten, with gypsies, and made a manuscript vocabulary of Romany words, which he allowed me to use, and from which I obtained several which were new to me. This fact should make all smart gypsy scholars "take tent" and heed as to believing that they know everything. I have many Anglo-Romany words—purely Hindi as to origin—which I have verified again and again, yet which have never appeared in print. Thus far the Romany vocabulary field has been merely scratched over.

Who that knows London knoweth not Sir Patrick Colquhoun? I made his acquaintance in 1848, when, coming over from student-life in Paris and the Revolution, I was most kindly treated by his family. A glorious, tough, widely experienced man he was even in early youth. For then he already bore the enviable reputation of being the first amateur sculler on the Thames, the first gentleman light-weight boxer in England, a graduate with honors of Cambridge, a Doctor Ph. of Heidelberg, a diplomat, and a linguist who knew Arabic, Persian, and Gaelic, Modern Greek and the Omnium Botherum tongues. They don't make such men nowadays, or, if they do, they leave out the genial element.

Years had passed, and I had returned to London in 1870, and found Sir Patrick living, as of yore, in the Temple, where I once and yet again and again dined with him. It was in the early days of this new spring of English life that we found ourselves by chance at a boat-race on the Thames. It was on the Thames, by his invitation, that I had twenty years before first seen an English regatta, and had a place in the gayly decked, superbly luncheoned barge of his club. It is a curious point in English character that the cleverest people do not realize or understand how festive and genial they really are, or how gayly and picturesquely they conduct their sports. It is a generally accepted doctrine with them that they do this kind of thing better in France; they believe sincerely that they take their own amusements sadly; it is the tone, the style, with the wearily-witty, dreary clowns of the weekly press, in their watery imitations of Thackeray's worst, to ridicule all English festivity and merry-making, as though sunshine had faded out of life, and God and Nature were dead, and in their place a great wind-bag Jesuit-Mallock were crying, in tones tainted with sulphuretted hydrogen, "Ah bah!" Reader mine, I have seen many a fete in my time, all the way from illuminations of Paris to the Khedive's fifteen-million-dollar spree in 1873 and the last grand flash of the Roman-candle carnival of 1846, but for true, hearty enjoyment and quiet beauty give me a merry party on the Thames. Give me, I say, its sparkling waters, its green banks, the joyous, beautiful girls, the hearty, handsome men. Give me the boats, darting like fishes, the gay cries. And oh—oh!—give me the Alsopp's ale in a quart mug, and not a remark save of approbation when I empty it.

I had met Sir Patrick in the crowd, and our conversation turned on gypsies. When living before-time in Roumania, he had Romany servants, and learned a little of their language. Yes, he was inclined to be "affected" into the race, and thereupon we went gypsying. Truly, we had not far to seek, for just outside the crowd a large and flourishing community of the black-blood had set itself up in the pivlioi (cocoa-nut) or kashta (stick) business, and as it was late in the afternoon, and the entire business-world was about as drunk as mere beer could make it, the scene was not unlively. At that time I was new to England, and unknown to every gypsy on the ground. In after-days I learned to know them well, very well, for they were chiefly Coopers and their congeners, who came to speak of me as their rye and own special property or proprietor,—an allegiance which involved on one side an amount of shillings and beer which concentrated might have set up a charity, but which was duly reciprocated on the other by jocular tenures of cocoa-nuts, baskets, and choice and deep words in the language of Egypt.

As we approached the cock-shy, where sticks were cast at cocoa-nuts, a young gypsy chai, whom I learned to know in after-days as Athalia Cooper, asked me to buy some sticks. A penny a throw, all the cocoa-nuts I could hit to be my own. I declined; she became urgent, jolly, riotous, insistive. I endured it well, for I held the winning cards. Qui minus propere, minus prospere. And then, as her voice rose crescendo into a bawl, so that all the Romanys around laughed aloud to see the green Gorgio so chaffed and bothered, I bent me low, and whispered softly in her ear a single monosyllable.

Why are all those sticks dropped so suddenly? Why does Athalia in a second become sober, and stand up staring at me, all her chaff and urgency forgotten. Quite polite and earnest now. But there is joy behind in her heart. This is a game, a jolly game, and no mistake. And uplifting her voice again, as the voice of one who findeth an exceeding great treasure even in the wilderness, she cried aloud,—"It's a Romany rye!"

The spiciest and saltest and rosiest of Sir Patrick's own stories, told after dinner over his own old port to a special conventicle of clergymen about town, was never received with such a roar of delight as that cry of Athalia's was by the Romany clan. Up went three sheers at the find; further afield went the shout proclaiming the discovery of an aristocratic stranger of their race, a rye, who was to them as wheat,—a gypsy gentleman. Neglecting business, they threw down their sticks, and left their cocoanuts to grin in solitude; the dyes turned aside from fortune-telling to see what strange fortune had sent such a visitor. In ten minutes Sir Patrick and I were surrounded by such a circle of sudden admirers and vehement applauders, as it seldom happens to any mortal to acquire—out of Ireland—at such exceedingly short notice and on such easy terms.

They were not particular as to what sort of a gypsy I was, or where I came from, or any nonsense of that sort, you know. It was about cerevisia vincit omnia, or the beery time of day with them, and they cared not for anything. I was extremely welcome; in short, there was poetry in me. I had come down on them by a way that was dark and a trick that was vain, in the path of mystery, and dropped on Athalia and picked her up. It was gypsily done and very creditable to me, and even Sir Patrick was regarded as one to be honored as an accomplice. It is a charming novelty in every life to have the better class of one's own kind come into it, and nobody feels so keenly as a jolly Romany that jucundum nihil est nisi quod ref icit varietas—naught pleases us without variety.

Then and there I drew to me the first threads of what became in after-days a strange and varied skein of humanity. There was the Thames upon a holiday. Now I look back to it, I ask, Ubi sunt? (Where are they all?) Joshua Cooper, as good and earnest a Rom as ever lived, in his grave, with more than one of those who made my acquaintance by hurrahing for me. Some in America, some wandering wide. Yet there by Weybridge still the Thames runs on.

By that sweet river I made many a song. One of these, to the tune of "Waves in Sunlight Dancing," rises and falls in memory like a fitful fairy coming and going in green shadows, and that it may not perish utterly I here give it a place:—


Av' kushto parl o pani, Av' kushto mir' akai! Mi kameli chovihani, Avel ke tiro rye!

Shan raklia rinkenidiri, Mukkellan rinkeni se; Kek rakli 'dre i temia Se rinkenidiri mi.

Shan dudnidiri yakka, Mukkelan dudeni; Kek yakk peshel' sa kushti Pa miro kameli zi.

Shan balia longi diri, Mukk 'lende bori 'pre, Kek waveri raklia balia, Te lian man opre.

Yoi lela angustrini, I miri tacheni, Kek wavei mush jinella, Sa dovo covva se.

Adre, adre o doeyav Patrinia pellelan, Kenna yek chumer kerdo O wavero well' an.

Te wenna butidiri, Ke jana sig akoi Sa sig sa yeck si gillo Shan waveri adoi.

Avella parl o pani, Avella sig akai! Mi kamli tani-rani Avell' ke tiro rye!

* * * * *


O love, come o'er the water, O love, where'er you be! My own sweetheart, my darling, Come over the river to me!

If any girls are fairer, Then fairer let them be; No maid in all the country Is half so fair to me.

If other eyes are brighter, Then brighter let them shine; I know that none are lighter Upon this heart of mine.

If other's locks are longer, Then longer let them grow; Hers are the only fish-lines Which ever caught me so.

She wears upon her finger A ring we know so well, And we and that ring only Know what the ring can tell.

From trees into the water Leaves fall and float away, So kisses come and leave us, A thousand in a day.

Yet though they come by thousands, Yet still they show their face; As soon as one has left us Another fills its place.

O love, come o'er the water, O lore, where'er you be! My own sweetheart, my darling, Come over the river to me!



The gypsies of Wales are to those of England what the Welsh themselves are to the English; more antique and quaint, therefore to a collector of human bric-a-brac more curious. The Welsh Rom is specially grateful for kindness or courtesy; he is deeper as to language, and preserves many of the picturesque traits of his race which are now so rapidly vanishing. But then he has such excellent opportunity for gypsying. In Wales there are yet thousands of acres of wild land, deep ravines, rocky corners, and roadside nooks, where he can boil the kettle and hatch the tan, or pitch his tent, undisturbed by the rural policeman. For it is a charming country, where no one need weary in summer, when the days are long, or in early autumn,—

"When the barley is ripe, And the frog doth pipe, In golden stripe And green all dressed; When the red apples Roll in the chest."

Then it is pleasant walking in Wales, and there too at times, between hedge-rows, you may meet with the Romany.

I was at Aberystwith by the sea, and one afternoon we went, a party of three gentlemen and three ladies, in a char-a-banc, or wagonette, to drive. It was a pleasant afternoon, and we had many a fine view of distant mountains, on whose sides were mines of lead with silver, and of which there were legends from the time of Queen Elizabeth. The hills looked leaden and blue in the distance, while the glancing sea far beyond recalled silver,—for the alchemy of imagery, at least, is never wanting to supply ideal metals, though the real may show a sad deficit in the returns.

As we drove we suddenly overtook a singular party, the first of whom was the leader, who had lagged behind. He was a handsome, slender, very dark young man, carrying a violin. Before him went a little open cart, in which lay an old woman, and by her a harp. With it walked a good-looking gypsy girl, and another young man, not a gypsy. He was by far the handsomest young fellow, in form and features, whom I ever met among the agricultural class in England; we called him a peasant Apollo. It became evident that the passional affinity which had drawn this rustic to the gypsy girl, and to the roads, was according to the law of natural selection, for they were wonderfully well matched. The young man had the grace inseparable from a fine figure and a handsome face, while the girl was tall, lithe, and pantherine, with the diavolesque charm which, though often attributed by fast-fashionable novelists to their heroines, is really never found except among the lowborn beauties of nature. It is the beauty of the Imp and of the Serpent; it fades with letters; it dies in the drawing-room or on the stage. You are mistaken when you think you see it coming out of the synagogue, unless it be a very vulgar one. Your Lahova has it not, despite her black eyes, for she is too clever and too conscious; the devil-beauty never knows how to read, she is unstudied and no actress. Rachel and the Bernhardt have it not, any more than Saint Agnes or Miss Blanche Lapin. It is not of good or of evil, or of culture, which is both; it is all and only of nature, and it does not know itself.

As the wagonette stopped I greeted the young man at first in English, then in Romany. When he heard the gypsy tongue he started, his countenance expressing the utmost surprise and delight. As if he could hardly believe in such a phenomenon he inquired, "Romany?" and as I nodded assent, he clasped my hand, the tears coming into his eyes. Such manifestations are not common among gypsies, but I can remember how one, the wife of black Ben Lee, was thus surprised and affected. How well I recall the time and scene,—by the Thames, in the late twilight, when every tree and twig was violet black against the amber sky, where the birds were chirp-chattering themselves to roost and rest, and the river rippled and murmured a duet with the evening breeze. I was walking homeward to Oatlands when I met the tawny Sinaminta, bearing her little stock of baskets to the tent and van which I had just quitted, and where Ben and his beautiful little boy were lighting the al fresco fire. "I have prayed to see this day!" exclaimed the gypsy woman. "I have so wanted to see the Romany rye of the Coopers. And I laid by a little delaben, a small present, for you when we should meet. It's a photograph of Ben and me and our child." I might have forgotten the evening and the amber sky, rippling river and dark-green hedge-rows, but for this strange meeting and greeting of an unknown friend, but a few kind words fixed them all for life. That must be indeed a wonderful landscape which humanity does not make more impressive.

I spoke but a few words to the gypsy with the violin, and we drove on to a little wayside inn, where we alighted and rested. After a while the gypsies came along.

"And now, if you will, let us have a real frolic," I said to my friends. A word was enough. A quart of ale, and the fiddle was set going, and I sang in Romany, and the rustic landlord and his household wondered what sort of guests we could be. That they had never before entertained such a mixed party I can well believe. Here, on one hand, were indubitable swells, above their usual range; there, on the other, were the dusky vagabonds of the road; and it could be no common condescending patronage, for I was speaking neither Welsh nor English, and our friendly fraternity was evident. Yes, many a time, in England, have I seen the civil landlady or the neat-handed Phillis awed with bewilderment, as I have introduced Plato Buckland, or the most disreputable-looking but oily—yea, glycerine-politeful—old Windsor Frog, into the parlor, and conversed with him in mystic words. Such an event is a rare joy to the gypsy. For he loves to be lifted up among men; he will tell you with pride of the times when he was pointed at, and people said, "He's the man!" and how a real gentleman once invited him into his house and gave him a glass of wine. But to enter the best room of the familiar tavern, to order, in politest but imperative tones, "beer"—sixpenny beer—for himself and "the other gentleman," is indeed bliss. Then, in addition to the honor of moving in distinguished society, before the very eyes and in the high places of those who have hitherto always considered him as a lowly cuss, the Romany realizes far more than the common peasant the contrast-contradiction, or the humor of the drama, its bit of mystification, and especially the mystification of the house-folk. This is unto him the high hour of the soul, and it is not forgotten. It passes unto the golden legends of the heart, and you are tenderly enshrined in it.

Once, when I was wandering afoot with old Cooper, we stopped at an inn, and in a room by ourselves ordered luncheon. The gypsy might have had poultry of the best; he preferred cold pork. While the attendant was in the room, he sat with exemplary dignity at the table; but as the girl left, he followed her step sounds with his ears, like a dog, moved his head, glanced at me with a nod, turned sideways from the table, and, putting his plate on his knees, proceeded to eat without a fork.

"For it isn't proper for me to eat at the table with you, or as you do."

The Welsh gypsy played well, and his sister touched the harp and sang, the ale circulated, and the villagers, assembling, gazed in a crowd into the hall. Then the girl danced solo, just as I have seen her sisters do in Egypt and in Russia, to her brother's fiddling. Even so of old, Syrian and Egyptian girls haunted gardens and taverns, and danced pas seul all over the Roman empire, even unto Spain, behaving so gypsily that wise men have conjectured that they were gypsies in very truth. And who shall say they were not? For it is possible that prehistorically, and beyond all records of Persian Luri and Syrian Ballerine and Egyptian Almeh, there was all over the East an outflowing of these children of art from one common primeval Indian stock. From one fraternity, in Italy, at the present day, those itinerant pests, the hand-organ players, proceed to the ends of the earth and to the gold-diggings thereof, and time will yet show that before all time, or in its early dawn, there were root-born Romany itinerants singing, piping, and dancing unto all the known world; yea, and into the unknown darkness beyond, in partibus infidelium.

A gentleman who was in our party had been long in the East. I had known him in Alexandria during the carnival, and he had lived long time outre mer, in India. Hearing me use the gypsy numerals—yeck, dui, trin, shtor, panj,—he proceeded to count in Hindustani or Persian, in which the same words from one to ten are almost identical with Romany. All of this was carefully noted by the old gypsy mother,—as, also, that my friend is of dark complexion, with sparkling black eyes. Reduced in dress, or diluted down to worn corduroy and a red tie, he might easily pass muster, among the Sons of the Road, as one of them.

And now the ladies must, of course, have their fortunes told, and this, I could observe, greatly astonished the gypsies in their secret souls, though they put a cool face on it. That we, ourselves, were some kind of a mysterious high-caste Romany they had already concluded, and what faith could we put in dukkerin? But as it would indubitably bring forth shillings to their benefit, they wisely raised no questions, but calmly took this windfall, which had fallen as it were, from the skies, even as they had accepted the beer, which had come, like a providential rain, unto them, in the thirst of a dry journey.

It is customary for all gypsy sorceresses to take those who are to be fortune-told aside, and, if possible, into a room by themselves. This is done partly to enhance the mystery of the proceeding, and partly to avoid the presence of witnesses to what is really an illegal act. And as the old sorceress led a lady into the little parlor, the gypsy man, whose name was Mat, glanced up at me, with a droll, puzzled expression, and said, "Patchessa tu adovo?" (Do you believe in that?) With a wink, I answered, "Why not? I, too, tell fortunes myself." Anch io sono pittore. It seemed to satisfy him, for he replied, with a nod-wink, and proceeded to pour forth the balance of his thoughts, if he had any, into the music of his violin.

When the ladies had all been instructed as to their future, my friend, who had been in the East, must needs have his destiny made known unto him. He did not believe in this sort of thing, you know,—of course not. But he had lived a long time among Orientals, and he just happened to wish to know how certain speculations would fall out, and he loves, above all things, a lark, or anything out of the common. So he went in. And when alone with the sybil, she began to talk to him in Romany.

"Oh, I say, now, old lady, stow that!" he exclaimed. "I don't understand you."

"You don't understand me!" exclaimed the fortune-teller. "Perhaps you didn't understand your own mother when she talked Romany to you. What's the use of your tryin' to make yourself out a Gorgio to me? Don't I know our people? Didn't your friend there talk Romanes? Isn't he all Romaneskas? And didn't I hear you with my own ears count up to ten in Romany? And now, after that, you would deny your own blood and people! Yes, you've dwelt in Gorgines so long that you think your eyes are blue and your hair is yellow, my son, and you have been far over the sea; but wherever you went you knew Romanes, if you don't know your own color. But you shall hear your fortune. There is lead in the mines and silver in the lead, and wealth for him who is to win it, and that will be a dark man who has been nine times over the sea, and eaten his bread under the black tents, and been three times near death, once from a horse, and once from a man, and once through a woman. And you will know something you don't know now before a month is over, and something will be found that is now hidden, and has been hidden since the world was made. And there's a good fortune coming to the man it was made for, before the oldest tree that's a-growing was a seed, and that's a man as knows how to count Romanes up to ten, and many a more thing beside that, that he's learned beyond the great water."

And so we went our ways, the harp and violin sounds growing fainter as we receded, till they were like the buzzing of bees in drying clover, and the twilight grew rosier brown. I never met Mat Woods again, though I often heard of his fame as a fiddler. Whether my Anglo-Indian friend found the fortune so vaguely predicted is to me as yet unknown. But I believe that the prediction encouraged him. That there are evils in palmistry, and sin in card-drawing, and iniquity in coffee-grounding, and vice in all the planets, is established by statute, and yet withal I incline to believe that the art of prediction cheers up many a despondent soul, and does some little good, even as good ale, despite the wickedness of drinking, makes some hearts merry and others stronger. If there are foolish maids who have had their heads turned by being told of coming noblemen and prospective swells, who loved the ground they trod on, and were waiting to woo and win and wed, and if the same maidens herein described have thereby, in the manner set forth, been led by the aforesaid devices unto their great injury, as written in the above indictment, it may also per contra and on the other hand be pleaded that divers girls, to wit, those who believe in prediction, have, by encouragement and hope to them held out of legally marrying sundry young men of good estate, been induced to behave better than they would otherwise have done, and led by this hope have acted more morally than was their wont, and thereby lifted themselves above the lowly state of vulgarity, and even of vice, in which they would otherwise have groveled, hoveled, or cottaged. And there have been men who, cherishing in their hearts a prediction, or, what amounts to the same thing, a conviction, or a set fancy, have persevered in hope until the hope was realized. You, O Christian, who believe in a millennium, you, O Jew, who expect a Messiah, and await the fulfillment of your dukkerin, are both in the right, for both will come true when you make them do so.


There is not much in life pleasanter than a long ramble on the road in leaf-green, sun-gold summer. Then it is Nature's merry-time, when fowls in woods them maken blithe, and the crow preaches from the fence to his friends afield, and the honeysuckle winketh to the wild rose in the hedge when she is wooed by the little buzzy bee. In such times it is good for the heart to wander over the hills and far away, into haunts known of old, where perhaps some semi-Saxon church nestles in a hollow behind a hill, where grass o'ergrows each mouldering tomb, and the brook, as it ripples by in a darksome aldered hollow, speaks in a language which man knows no more, but which is answered in the same forgotten tongue by the thousand-year yew as it rustles in the breeze. And when there are Runic stones in this garden of God, where He raises souls, I often fancy that this old dialect is written in their rhythmic lines. The yew-trees were planted by law, lang-syne, to yield bows to the realm, and now archery is dead and Martini-Henry has taken its place, but the yews still live, and the Runic fine art of the twisted lines on the tombs, after a thousand years' sleep, is beginning to revive. Every thing at such a time speaks of joy and resurrection—tree and tomb and bird and flower and bee.

These are all memories of a walk from the town of Aberystwith, in Wales, which walk leads by an ancient church, in the soul garden of which are two Runic cross tombstones. One day I went farther afield to a more ancient shrine, on the top of a high mountain. This was to the summit of Cader Idris, sixteen miles off. On this summit there is a Druidical circle, of which the stones, themselves to ruin grown, are strange and death-like old. Legend says that this is the burial-place of Taliesin, the first of Welsh bards, the primeval poet of Celtic time. Whoever sleeps on the grave will awake either a madman or a poet, or is at any rate unsafe to become one or the other. I went, with two friends, afoot on this little pilgrimage. Both were professors at one of the great universities. The elder is a gentleman of great benevolence, learning, and gentleness; the other, a younger man, has been well polished and sharpened by travel in many lands. It is rumored that he has preached Islam in a mosque unto the Moslem even unto taking up a collection, which is the final test of the faith which reaches forth into a bright eternity. That he can be, as I have elsewhere noted, a Persian unto Persians, and a Romany among Roms, and a professional among the hanky-pankorites, is likewise on the cards, as surely as that he knows the roads and all the devices and little games of them that dwell thereon. Though elegant enough in his court dress and rapier when he kisses the hand of our sovereign lady the queen, he appears such an abandoned rough when he goes a-fishing that the innocent and guileless gypsies, little suspecting that a rye lies perdu in his wrap-rascal, will then confide in him as if he and in-doors had never been acquainted.

We had taken with us a sparing lunch of thin sandwiches and a frugal flask of modest, blushing brandy, which we diluted at a stingy little fountain spring which dropped economically through a rift in the rock, as if its nymph were conscious that such a delicious drink should not be wasted. As it was, it refreshed us, and we were resting in a blessed repose under the green leaves, when we heard footsteps, and an old woman came walking by.

She was the ideal of decent and extreme poverty. I never saw anybody who was at once so poor and so clean. In her face and in her thin garments was marked the mute, resolute struggle between need and self-respect, which, to him who understands it, is as brave as any battle between life and death. She walked on as if she would have gone past without a word, but when we greeted her she paused, and spoke respectfully. Without forwardness she told her sad and simple story: how she belonged to the Wesleyan confession, how her daughter was dying in the hospital at Caernarvon; how she had walked sixty miles to see her, and hoped to get there in time to close her eyes. In reply to a question as to her means, she admitted that they were exhausted, but that she could get through without money; she did not beg. And then came naturally enough the rest of the little artless narrative, as it generally happens among the simple annals of the poor: how she had been for forty years a washerwoman, and had a letter from her clergyman.

There was a tear in the eye of the elder professor, and his hand was in his pocket. The younger smoked in silence. I was greatly moved myself,—perhaps bewildered would be the better word,—when, all at once, as the old woman turned in the sunlight, I caught the expression of the corner of an eye!

My friend Salaman, who boasts that he is of the last of the Sadducees,—that strange, ancient, and secret sect, who disguise themselves as the Neu Reformirte,—declares that the Sephardim may be distinguished from the Ashkenazim as readily as from the confounded Goyim, by the corners of their eyes. This he illustrated by pointing out to me, as they walked by in the cool of the evening, the difference between the eyes of Fraulein Eleonora Kohn and Senorita Linda Abarbanel and divers and sundry other young ladies,—the result being that I received in return thirty-six distinct oeillades, several of which expressed indignation, and in all of which there was evidently an entire misconception of my object in looking at them. Now the eyes of the Sephardesses are unquestionably fascinating; and here it may be recalled that, in the Middle Ages, witches were also recognized by having exactly the same corners, or peaks, to the eye. This is an ancient mystery of darksome lore, that the enchantress always has the bird-peaked eye, which betokens danger to somebody, be she of the Sephardim, or an ordinary witch or enchantress, or a gypsy.

Now, as the old Wesleyan washerwoman turned around in the sunshine, I saw the witch-pointed eye and the glint of the Romany. And then I glanced at her hands, and saw that they had not been long familiar with wash-tubs; for, though clean, they were brown, and had never been blanched with an age of soap-suds. And I spoke suddenly, and said,—

"Can tute rakker Romanes, miri dye?" (Can you speak Romany, my mother?) And she answered, as if bewildered,—

"The Lord forbid, sir, that I should talk any of them wicked languages."

The younger professor's eyes expressed dawning delight. I followed my shot with,—

"Tute needn't be attrash to rakker. Mandy's been apre the drom mi-kokero." (You needn't be afraid to speak. I have been upon the road myself.)

And, still more confused, she answered in English,—

"Why, sir, you be upon the road now!"

"It seems to me, old lady," remarked the younger professor, "that you understand Romany very well for one who has been for forty years in the Methodist communion."

It may be observed that he here confounded washing with worshiping.

The face of the true believer was at this point a fine study. All her confidence had deserted her. Whether she thought we were of her kind in disguise, or that, in the unknown higher world of respectability, there might be gypsies of corresponding rank, even as there might be gypsy angels among the celestial hierarchies, I cannot with confidence assert. About a week ago a philologist and purist told me that there is no exact synonym in English for the word flabbergasted, as it expresses a peculiar state of bewilderment as yet unnamed by scholars, and it exactly sets forth the condition in which our virtuous poverty appeared. She was, indeed, flabbergasted. Cornix scorpum rapuit,—the owl had come down on the rabbits, and lo! they had fangs. I resumed,—

"Now, old lady, here is a penny. You are a very poor person, and I pity you so much that I give you this penny for your poverty. But there is a pocketful where this came from, and you shall have the lot if you'll rakker,"—that is, talk gypsy.

And at that touch of the Ithuriel spear the old toad flashed up into the Romany devil, as with gleaming eyes and a witch-like grin she cried in a mixture of gypsy and tinker languages,—

"Gents, I'll have tute jin when you tharis mandy you rakker a reg'lar fly old bewer." Which means, "Gentlemen, I'll have you know, when you talk to me, you talk to a reg'lar shrewd old female thief."

The face of the elder professor was a study of astonishment for Lavater. His fingers relaxed their grasp of the shilling, his hand was drawn from his pocket, and his glance, like Bill Nye's, remarked: "Can this be?" He tells the story to this day, and always adds, "I never was so astonished in my life." But the venerable washerwoman was also changed, and, the mask once thrown aside, she became as festive as a witch on the Brocken. Truly, it is a great comfort to cease playing a part, particularly a pious one, and be at home and at ease among your like; and better still if they be swells. This was the delight of Anderson's ugly duck when it got among the swans, "and, blest sensation, felt genteel." And to show her gratitude, the sorceress, who really seemed to have grown several shades darker, insisted on telling our fortunes. I think it was to give vent to her feelings in defiance of the law that she did this; certain it was that just then, under the circumstances, it was the only way available in which the law could be broken. And as it was, indeed, by heath and hill that the priestess of the hidden spell bade the Palmer from over the sea hold out his palm. And she began in the usual sing-song tone, mocking the style of gypsy fortune-tellers, and satirizing herself. And thus she spoke,—

"You're born under a lucky star, my good gentleman, and you're a married man; but there's a black-eyed young lady that's in love with you."

"Oh, mother of all the thieves!" I cried, "you've put the dukkerin on the wrong man. I'm the one that the dark girls go after."

"Yes, my good gentleman. She's in love with you both."

"And now tell my fortune!" I exclaimed, and with a grim expression, casting up my palm, I said,—

"Pen mengy if mandy'll be bitchade padel for chorin a gry, or nasherdo for merin a gav-mush." (Tell me if I am to be transported for stealing a horse, or hung for killing a policeman.)

The old woman's face changed. "You'll never need to steal a horse. The man that knows what you know never need be poor like me. I know who you are now; you're not one of these tourists. You're the boro Romany rye [the tall gypsy gentleman]. And go your way, and brag about it in your house,—and well you may,—that Old Moll of the Roads couldn't take you in, and that you found her out. Never another rye but you will ever say that again. Never."

And she went dancing away in the sunshine, capering backwards along the road, merrily shaking the pennies in her hand for music, while she sang something in gypsy,—witch to the last, vanishing as witches only can. And there came over me a feeling as of the very olden time, and some memory of another witch, who had said to another man, "Thou art no traveler, Great master, I know thee now;" and who, when he called her the mother of the giants, replied, "Go thy way, and boast at home that no man will ever waken me again with spells. Never." That was the parting of Odin and the Vala sorceress, and it was the story of oldest time; and so the myth of ancient days becomes a tattered parody, and thus runs the world away to Romanys and rags—when the gods are gone.

When I laughed at the younger professor for confounding forty years in the church with as many at the wash-tub, he replied,—

"Cleanliness is with me so near to godliness that it is not remarkable that in my hurry I mistook one for the other."

So we went on and climbed Cader Idris, and found the ancient grave of rocks in a mystic circle, whose meaning lies buried with the last Druid, who would perhaps have told you they were—

"Seats of stone nevir hewin with mennes hand But wrocht by Nature as it ane house had bene For Nymphes, goddis of floudes and woodis grene."

And we saw afar the beautiful scene, "where fluddes rynnys in the foaming sea," as Gawain Douglas sings, and where, between the fresh water and salt, stands a village, even where it stood in earliest Cymric prehistoric dawn, and the spot where ran the weir in which the prince who was in grief because his weir yielded no fish, at last fished up a poet, even as Pharaoh's daughter fished out a prophet. I shall not soon forget that summer day, nor the dream-like panorama, nor the ancient grave; nor how the younger professor lay down on the seat of stone nevir hewin with mennes hand, and declared he had a nap,—just enough to make him a poet. To prove which he wrote a long poem on the finding of Taliesin in the nets, and sent it to the Aberystwith newspaper; while I, not to be behindhand, wrote another, in imitation of the triplets of Llydwarch Hen, which were so greatly admired as tributes to Welsh poetry that they were forthwith translated faithfully into lines of consonants, touched up with so many w's that they looked like saws; and they circulated even unto Llandudno, and, for aught I know, may be sung at Eistedfodds, now and ever, to the twanging of small harps,—in soecula saeculorum. Truly, the day which had begun with a witch ended fitly enough at the tomb of a prophet poet.


Aberystwith is a little fishing-village, which has of late years first bloomed as a railway-station, and then fruited into prosperity as a bathing-place. Like many parvenus, it makes a great display of its Norman ancestor, the old castle, saying little about the long centuries of plebeian obscurity in which it was once buried. This castle, after being woefully neglected during the days when nobody cared for its early respectability, has been suddenly remembered, now that better times have come, and, though not restored, has been made comely with grass banks, benches, and gravel walks, reminding one of an Irish grandfather in America, taken out on a Sunday with "the childher," and looking "gintale" in the clean shirt and whole coat unknown to him for many a decade in Tipperary. Of course the castle and the wealth, or the hotels and parade, are well to the fore, or boldly displayed, as Englishly as possible, while the little Welsh town shrinks quietly into the hollow behind. And being new to prosperity, Aberystwith is also a little muddled as to propriety. It would regard with horror the idea of allowing ladies and gentlemen to bathe together, even though completely clad; but it sees nothing out of the way when gentlemen in pre-fig-leaf costume disport themselves, bathing just before the young ladies' boarding-school and the chief hotel, or running joyous races on the beach. I shall never forget the amazement and horror with which an Aberystwithienne learned that in distant lands ladies and gentlemen went into the water arm in arm, although dressed. But when it was urged that the Aberystwith system was somewhat peculiar, she replied, "Oh, that is a very different thing!"

On which words for a text a curious sermon might be preached to the Philistiny souls who live perfectly reconciled to absurd paradoxes, simply because they are accustomed to them. Now, of all human beings, I think the gypsies are freest from trouble with paradoxes as to things being different or alike, and the least afflicted with moral problems, burning questions, social puzzles, or any other kind of mental rubbish. They are even freer than savages or the heathen in this respect, since of all human beings the Fijian, New Zealander, Mpongwe, or Esquimaux is most terribly tortured with the laws of etiquette, religion, social position, and propriety. Among many of these heathen unfortunates the meeting with an equal involves fifteen minutes of bowing, re-bowing, surre-bowing, and rejoinder-bowing, with complementary complimenting, according to old custom, while the worship of Mrs. Grundy through a superior requires a half hour wearisome beyond belief. "In Fiji," says Miss C. F. Gordon Cumming, "strict etiquette rules every action of life, and the most trifling mistake in such matters would cause as great dissatisfaction as a breach in the order of precedence at a European ceremonial." In dividing cold baked missionary at a dinner, especially if a chief be present, the host committing the least mistake as to helping the proper guest to the proper piece in the proper way would find himself promptly put down in the menu. In Fiji, as in all other countries, this punctilio is nothing but the direct result of ceaseless effort on the part of the upper classes to distinguish themselves from the lower. Cannibalism is a joint sprout from the same root; "the devourers of the poor" are the scorners of the humble and lowly, and they are all grains of the same corn, of the devil's planting, all the world over. Perhaps the quaintest error which haunts the world in England and America is that so much of this stuff as is taught by rule or fashion as laws for "the elite" is the very nucleus of enlightenment and refinement, instead of its being a remnant of barbarism. And when we reflect on the degree to which this naive and child-like faith exists in the United States, as shown by the enormous amount of information in certain newspapers as to what is the latest thing necessary to be done, acted, or suffered in order to be socially saved, I surmise that some future historian will record that we, being an envious people, turned out the Chinese, because we could not endure the presence among us of a race so vastly our superiors in all that constituted the true principles of culture and "custom."

Arthur Mitchell, in inquiring What is Civilization? {209} remarks that "all the things which gather round or grow upon a high state of civilization are not necessarily true parts of it. These conventionalities are often regarded as its very essence." And it is true that the greater the fool or snob, the deeper is the conviction that the conventional is the core of "culture." "'It is not genteel,' 'in good form,' or 'the mode,' to do this or do that, or say this or say that." "Such things are spoken of as marks of a high civilization, or by those who do not confound civilization with culture as differentiators between the cultured and the uncultured." Dr. Mitchell "neither praises nor condemns these things;" but it is well for a man, while he is about it, to know his own mind, and I, for myself, condemn them with all my heart and soul, whenever anybody declares that such brass counters in the game of life are real gold, and insists that I shall accept them as such. For small play in a very small way with small people, I would endure them; but many men and nearly all women make their capital of them. And whatever may be said in their favor, it cannot be denied that they constantly lead to lying and heartlessness. Even Dr. Mitchell, while he says he does not condemn them, proceeds immediately to declare that "while we submit to them they constitute a sort of tyranny, under which we fret and secretly pine for escape. Does not the exquisite of Rotten Row weary for his flannel shirt and shooting-jacket? Do not 'well-constituted' men want to fish and shoot or kill something, themselves, by climbing mountains, when they can find nothing else? In short, does it not appear that these conventionalities are irksome, and are disregarded when the chance presents itself? And does it not seem as if there were something in human nature pulling men back to a rude and simple life?" To find that men suffer under the conventionalities, "adds, on the whole," says our canny, prudent Scot, "to the respectability of human nature." Tu ha ragione (right you are), Dr. Mitchell, there. For the conventional, whether found among Fijians as they were, or in Mayfair as it is, whenever it is vexatious and merely serves as a cordon to separate "sassiety" from society, detracts from the respectability of humanity, and is in itself vulgar. If every man in society were a gentleman and every woman a lady, there would be no more conventionalism. Usus est tyrannus (custom is a tyrant), or, as the Talmud proverb saith, "Custom is the plague of wise men, but is the idol of fools." And he was a wise Jew, whoever he was, who declared it.

But let us return to our black sheep, the gypsy. While happy in not being conventional, and while rejoicing, or at least unconsciously enjoying freedom from the bonds of etiquette, he agrees with the Chinese, red Indians, May Fairies, and Fifth Avenoodles in manifesting under the most trying circumstances that imperturbability which was once declared by an eminent Philadelphian to be "the Corinthian ornament of a gentleman." He who said this builded better than he knew, for the ornament in question, if purely Corinthian, is simply brass. One morning I was sauntering with the Palmer in Aberystwith, when we met with a young and good-looking gypsy woman, with whom we entered into conversation, learning that she was a Bosville, and acquiring other items of news as to Egypt and the roads, and then left.

We had not gone far before we found a tinker. He who catches a tinker has got hold of half a gypsy and a whole cosmopolite, however bad the catch may be. He did not understand the greeting Sarishan!—he really could not remember to have heard it. He did not know any gypsies,—"he could not get along with them." They were a bad lot. He had seen some gypsies three weeks before on the road. They were curious dark people, who lived in tents. He could not talk Romany.

This was really pitiable. It was too much. The Palmer informed him that he was wasting his best opportunities, and that it was a great pity that any man who lived on the roads should be so ignorant. The tinker never winked. In the goodness of our hearts we even offered to give him lessons in the kalo jib, or black language. The grinder was as calm as a Belgravian image. And as we turned to depart the professor said,—

"Mandy'd del tute a shahori to pi moro kammaben, if tute jinned sa mandi pukkers." (I'd give you a sixpence to drink our health, if you knew what I am saying.)

With undisturbed gravity the tinker replied,—

"Now I come to think of it, I do remember to have heard somethin' in the parst like that. It's a conwivial expression arskin' me if I won't have a tanner for ale. Which I will."

"Now since you take such an interest in gypsies," I answered, "it is a pity that you should know so little about them. I have seen them since you have. I saw a nice young woman, one of the Bosvilles here, not half an hour ago. Shall I introduce you?"

"That young woman," remarked the tinker, with the same immovable countenance, "is my wife. And I've come down here, by app'intment, to meet some Romany pals."

And having politely accepted his sixpence, the griddler went his way, tinkling his bell, along the road. He did not disturb himself that his first speeches did not agree with his last; he was not in the habit of being disturbed about anything, and he knew that no one ever learned Romany without learning with it not to be astonished at any little inconsistencies. Serene and polished as a piece of tin in the sunshine, he would not stoop to be put out by trifles. He was a typical tinker. He knew that the world had made up proverbs expressing the utmost indifference either for a tinker's blessing or a tinker's curse, and he retaliated by not caring a curse whether the world blessed or banned him. In all ages and in all lands the tinker has always been the type of this droning indifference, which goes through life bagpiping its single melody, or whistling, like the serene Marquis de Crabs, "Toujours Santerre."

"Es ist und bleibt das alte Lied Von dem versoff'nen Pfannenschmied, Und wer's nicht weiter singen kann, Der fang's von Vorne wieder an."

'T will ever be the same old song Of tipsy tinkers all day long, And he who cannot sing it more May sing it over, as before.

I should have liked to know John Bunyan. As a half-blood gypsy tinker he must have been self-contained and pleasant. He had his wits about him, too, in a very Romanly way. When confined in prison he made a flute or pipe out of the leg of his three legged-stool, and would play on it to pass time. When the jailer entered to stop the noise, John replaced the leg in the stool, and sat on it looking innocent as only a gypsy tinker could,—calm as a summer morning. I commend the subject for a picture. Very recently, that is, in the beginning of 1881, a man of the same tinkering kind, and possibly of the same blood as Honest John, confined in the prison of Moyamensing, Philadelphia, did nearly the same thing, only that instead of making his stool leg into a musical pipe he converted it into a pipe for tobacco. But when the watchman, led by the smell, entered his cell, there was no pipe to be found; only a deeply injured man complaining that "somebody, had been smokin' outside, and it had blowed into his cell through the door-winder from the corridore, and p'isoned the atmosphere. And he didn't like it." And thus history repeats itself. 'T is all very well for the sticklers for Wesleyan gentility to deny that John Bunyan was a gypsy, but he who in his life cannot read Romany between the lines knows not the jib nor the cut thereof. Tough was J. B., "and de-vil-ish sly," and altogether a much better man than many suppose him to have been.

The tinker lived with his wife in a "tramps' lodging-house" in the town. To those Americans who know such places by the abominable dens which are occasionally reported by American grand juries, the term will suggest something much worse than it is. In England the average tramp's lodging is cleaner, better regulated, and more orderly than many Western "hotels." The police look closely after it, and do not allow more than a certain number in a room. They see that it is frequently cleaned, and that clean sheets are frequently put on the beds. One or two hand-organs in the hall, with a tinker's barrow or wheel, proclaimed the character of the lodgers, and in the sitting-room there were to be found, of an evening, gypsies, laborers with their families seeking work or itinerant musicians. I can recall a powerful and tall young man, with a badly expressive face, one-legged, and well dressed as a sailor. He was a beggar, who measured the good or evil of all mankind by what they gave him. He was very bitter as to the bad. Yet this house was in its way upper class. It was not a den of despair, dirt, and misery, and even the Italians who came there were obliged to be decent and clean. It would not have been appropriate to have written for them on the door, "Voi che intrate lasciate ogni speranza." (He who enters here leaves soap behind.) The most painful fact which struck me, in my many visits, was the intelligence and decency of some of the boarders. There was more than one who conversed in a manner which indicated an excellent early education; more than one who read the newspaper aloud and commented on it to the company, as any gentleman might have done. Indeed, the painful part of life as shown among these poor people was the manifest fact that so many of them had come down from a higher position, or were qualified for it. And this is characteristic of such places. In his "London Labour and the London Poor," vol. i. p. 217, Mahew tells of a low lodging-house "in which there were at one time five university men, three surgeons, and several sorts of broken-down clerks." The majority of these cases are the result of parents having risen from poverty and raised their families to "gentility." The sons are deprived by their bringing up of the vulgar pluck and coarse energy by which the father rose, and yet are expected to make their way in the world, with nothing but a so-called "education," which is too often less a help than a hindrance. In the race of life no man is so heavily handicapped as a young "gentleman." The humblest and raggedest of all the inmates of this house were two men who got their living by shelkin gallopas (or selling ferns), as it is called in the Shelta, or tinker's and tramp's slang. One of these, whom I have described in another chapter as teaching me this dialect, could conjugate a French verb; we thought he had studied law. The other was a poor old fellow called Krooty, who could give the Latin names for all the plants which he gathered and sold, and who would repeat poetry very appropriately, proving sufficiently that he had read it. Both the fern-sellers spoke better English than divers Lord Mayors and Knights to whom I have listened, for they neither omitted h like the lowly, nor r like the lofty ones of London.

The tinker's wife was afflicted with a nervous disorder, which caused her great suffering, and made it almost impossible for her to sell goods, or contribute anything to the joint support. Her husband always treated her with the greatest kindness; I have seldom seen an instance in which a man was more indulgent and gentle. He made no display whatever of his feelings; it was only little by little that I found out what a heart this imperturbable rough of the road possessed. Now the Palmer, who was always engaged in some wild act of unconscious benevolence, bought for her some medicine, and gave her an order on the first physician in the town for proper advice; the result being a decided amelioration of her health. And I never knew any human being to be more sincerely grateful than the tinker was for this kindness. Ascertaining that I had tools for wood-carving, he insisted on presenting me with crocus powder, "to put an edge on." He had a remarkably fine whetstone, "the best in England; it was worth half a sovereign," and this he often and vainly begged me to accept. And he had a peculiar little trick of relieving his kindly feelings. Whenever we dropped in of an evening to the lodging-house, he would cunningly borrow my knife, and then disappear. Presently the whiz-whiz, st'st of his wheel would be heard without, and then the artful dodger would reappear with a triumphant smile, and with the knife sharpened to a razor edge. Anent which gratitude I shall have more to say anon.

One day I was walking on the Front, when I overtook a gypsy van, loaded with baskets and mats, lumbering along. The proprietor, who was a stranger to me, was also slightly or lightly lumbering in his gait, being cheerfully beery, while his berry brown wife, with a little three-year-old boy, peddled wares from door to door. Both were amazed and pleased at being accosted in Romany. In the course of conversation they showed great anxiety as to their child, who had long suffered from some disorder which caused them great alarm. The man's first name was Anselo, though it was painted Onslow on his vehicle. Mr. Anselo, though himself just come to town, was at once deeply impressed with the duty of hospitality to a Romany rye. I had called him pal, and this in gypsydom involves the shaking of hands, and with the better class an extra display of courtesy. He produced half a crown, and declared his willingness to devote it all to beer for my benefit. I declined, but he repeated his offer several times,—not with any annoying display, but with a courteous earnestness, intended to set forth a sweet sincerity. As I bade him good-by, he put the crown-piece into one eye, and as he danced backward, gypsy fashion up the street and vanished in the sunny purple twilight towards the sea I could see him winking with the other, and hear him cry, "Don't say no—now's the last chance—do I hear a bid?"

We found this family in due time at the lodging-house, where the little boy proved to be indeed seriously ill, and we at once discovered that the parents, in their ignorance, had quite misunderstood his malady and were aggravating it by mal-treatment. To these poor people the good Palmer also gave an order on the old physician, who declared that the boy must have died in a few days, had he not taken charge of him. As it was, the little fellow was speedily cured. There was, it appeared, some kind of consanguinity between the tinker or his wife and the Anselo family. These good people, anxious to do anything, yet able to do little, consulted together as to showing their gratitude, and noting that we were specially desirous of collecting old gypsy words gave us all they could think of, and without informing us of their intention, which indeed we only learned by accident a long time after, sent a messenger many miles to bring to Aberystwith a certain Bosville, who was famed as being deep in Romany lore, and in possession of many ancient words. Which was indeed true, he having been the first to teach us pisali, meaning a saddle, and in which Professor Cowell, of Cambridge, promptly detected the Sanskrit for sit-upon, the same double meaning also existing in boshto; or, as old Mrs. Buckland said to me at Oaklands Park, in Philadelphia, "a pisali is the same thing with a boshto."

"What will gain thy faith?" said Quentin Durward to Hayradden Maugrabhin. "Kindness," answered the gypsy.

The joint families, solely with intent to please us, although they never said a word about it, next sent for a young Romany, one of the Lees, and his wife whom they supposed we would like to meet. Walking along the Front, I met the tinker's wife with the handsomest Romany girl I ever beheld. In a London ball-room or on the stage she would have been a really startling beauty. This was young Mrs. Lee. Her husband was a clever violinist, and it was very remarkable that when he gave himself up to playing, with abandon or self-forgetfulness, there came into his melodies the same wild gypsy expression, the same chords and tones, which abound in the music of the Austrian Tsigane. It was not my imagination which prompted the recognition; the Palmer also observed it, without thinking it remarkable. From the playing of both Mat Woods and young Lee, I am sure that there has survived among the Welsh gypsies some of the spirit of their old Eastern music, just as in the solo dancing of Mat's sister there was precisely the same kind of step which I had seen in Moscow. Among the hundreds of the race whom I have met in Great Britain, I have never known any young people who were so purely Romany as these. The tinker and Anselo with his wife had judged wisely that we would be pleased with this picturesque couple. They always seemed to me in the house like two wild birds, and tropical ones at that, in a cage. There was a tawny-gold, black and scarlet tone about them and their garb, an Indian Spanish duskiness and glow which I loved to look at.

Every proceeding of the tinker and Anselo was veiled in mystery and hidden in the obscurity so dear to such grown-up children, but as I observed after a few days that Lee did nothing beyond acting as assistant to the tinker at the wheel, I surmised that the visit was solely for our benefit. As the tinker was devoted to his poor wife, so was Anselo and his dame devoted to their child. He was, indeed, a brave little fellow, and frequently manifested the precocious pluck and sturdiness so greatly admired by the Romanys of the road; and when he would take a whip and lead the horse, or in other ways show his courage, the delight of his parents was in its turn delightful. They would look at the child as if charmed, and then at one another with feelings too deep for words, and then at me for sympathetic admiration.

The keeper of the house where they lodged was in his way a character and a linguist. Welsh was his native tongue and English his second best. He also knew others, such as Romany, of which he was proud, and the Shelta or Minklas of the tinkers, of which he was not. The only language which he knew of which he was really ashamed was Italian, and though he could maintain a common conversation in it he always denied that he remembered more than a few words. For it was not as the tongue of Dante, but as the lingo of organ-grinders and such "catenone" that he knew it, and I think that the Palmer and I lost dignity in his eyes by inadvertently admitting that it was familiar to us. "I shouldn't have thought it," was all his comment on the discovery, but I knew his thought, and it was that we had made ourselves unnecessarily familiar with vulgarity.

It is not every one who is aware of the extent to which Italian is known by the lower orders in London. It is not spoken as a language; but many of its words, sadly mangled, are mixed with English as a jargon. Thus the Italian scappare, to escape, or run away, has become scarper; and a dweller in the Seven Dials has been heard to say he would "scarper with the feele of the donna of the cassey;" which means, run away with the daughter of the landlady of the house, and which, as the editor of the Slang Dictionary pens, is almost pure Italian,—scappare colla figlia della donna, della casa. Most costermongers call a penny a saltee, from soldo; a crown, a caroon; and one half, madza, from mezza. They count as follows:—

ITALIAN. Oney saltee, a penny Uno soldo. Dooey saltee, twopence Dui soldi. Tray saltee, threepence Tre soldi. Quarterer saltee, fourpence Quattro soldi. Chinker saltee, fivepence Cinque soldi. Say saltee, sixpence Sei soldi. Say oney saltee, or setter Sette soldi. saltee, sevenpence Say dooee saltee, or otter Otto soldi. saltee, eightpence Say tray saltee, or nobba saltee, Nove soldi. ninepence Say quarterer saltee, or dacha Dieci soldi. (datsha) saltee, tenpence Say chinker saltee, or dacha one Dieci uno soldi saltee, elevenpence Oney beong, one shilling Uno bianco. A beong say saltee, one shilling Uno bianco sei soldi. and sixpence Madza caroon, half a crown Mezza corona.

Mr. Hotten says that he could never discover the derivation of beong, or beonk. It is very plainly the Italian bianco, white, which, like blanc in French and blank in German, is often applied slangily to a silver coin. It is as if one had said, "a shiner." Apropos of which word there is something curious to be noted. It came forth in evidence, a few years ago in England, that burglars or other thieves always carried with them a piece of coal; and on this disclosure, a certain writer, in his printed collection of curiosities, comments as if it were a superstition, remarking that the coal is carried for an amulet. But the truth is that the thief has no such idea. The coal is simply a sign for money; and when the bearer meets with a man whom he thinks may be a "fence," or a purchaser of stolen goods, he shows the coal, which is as much as to say, Have you money? Money, in vulgar gypsy, is wongur, a corruption of the better word angar, which also means a hot coal; and braise, in French argot, has the same double meaning. I may be wrong, but I suspect that rat, a dollar in Hebrew, or at least in Schmussen, has its root in common with ratzafim, coals, and possibly poschit, a farthing, with pecham, coal. In the six kinds of fire mentioned in the Talmud, {222} there is no identification of coals with money; but in the German legends of Rubezahl, there is a tale of a charcoal-burner who found them changed to gold. Coins are called shiners because they shine like glowing coals, and I dare say that the simile exists in many more languages.

One twilight we found in the public sitting-room of the lodging-house a couple whom I can never forget. It was an elderly gypsy and his wife. The husband was himself characteristic; the wife was more than merely picturesque. I have never met such a superb old Romany as she was; indeed, I doubt if I ever saw any woman of her age, in any land or any range of life, with a more magnificently proud expression or such unaffected dignity. It was the whole poem of "Crescentius" living in modern time in other form.

When a scholar associates much with gypsies there is developed in him in due time a perception or intuition of certain kinds of men or minds, which it is as difficult to describe as it is wonderful. He who has read Matthew Arnold's "Gipsy Scholar" may, however, find therein many apt words for it. I mean very seriously what I say; I mean that through the Romany the demon of Socrates acquires distinctness; I mean that a faculty is developed which is as strange as divination, and which is greatly akin to it. The gypsies themselves apply it directly to palmistry; were they well educated they would feel it in higher forms. It may be reached among other races and in other modes, and Nature is always offering it to us freely; but it seems to live, or at least to be most developed, among the Romany. It comes upon the possessor far more powerfully when in contact with certain lives than with others, and with the sympathetic it takes in at a glance that which may employ it at intervals for years to think out.

And by this duk I read in a few words in the Romany woman an eagle soul, caged between the bars of poverty, ignorance, and custom; but a great soul for all that. Both she and her husband were of the old type of their race, now so rare in England, though commoner in America. They spoke Romany with inflection and conjugation; they remembered the old rhymes and old words, which I quoted freely, with the Palmer. Little by little, the old man seemed to be deeply impressed, indeed awed, by our utterly inexplicable knowledge. I wore a velveteen coat, and had on a broad, soft felt hat.

"You talk as the old Romanys did," said the old man. "I hear you use words which I once heard from old men who died when I was a boy. I thought those words were lying in graves which have long been green. I hear songs and sayings which I never expected to hear again. You talk like gypsies, and such gypsies as I never meet now; and you look like Gorgios. But when I was still young, a few of the oldest Romany chals still wore hats such as you have; and when I first looked at you, I thought of them. I don't understand you. It is strange, very strange."

"It is the Romany soul," said his wife. "People take to what is in them; if a bird were born a fox, it would love to fly."

I wondered what flights she would have taken if she had wings. But I understood why the old man had spoken as he did; for, knowing that we had intelligent listeners, the Palmer and I had brought forth all our best and quaintest Romany curios, and these rural Welsh wanderers were not, like their English pals, familiar with Romany ryes. And I was moved to like them, and nobody perceives this sooner than a gypsy. The old couple were the parents of young Lee, and said they had come to visit him; but I think that it was rather to see us that we owed their presence in Aberystwith. For the tinker and Anselo were at this time engaged, in their secret and owl-like manner, as befitted men who were up to all manner of ways that were dark, in collecting the most interesting specimens of Romanys, for our especial study; and whenever this could be managed so that it appeared entirely accidental and a surprise, then they retired into their shadowed souls and chuckled with fiendish glee at having managed things so charmingly. But it will be long ere I forget how the old man's eye looked into the past as he recalled,—

"The hat of antique shape and coat of gray, The same the gypsies wore,"

and went far away back through my words to words heard in the olden time, by fires long since burnt out, beneath the flame-gilt branches of forests which have sailed away as ships, farther than woods e'er went from Dunsinane, and been wrecked in Southern seas. But though I could not tell exactly what was in every room, I knew into what house his soul had gone; and it was for this that the scholar-gypsy went from Oxford halls "to learn strange arts and join a gypsy tribe." His friends had gone from earth long since, and were laid to sleep; some, perhaps, far in the wold and wild, amid the rocks, where fox and wild bird were their visitors; but for an instant they rose again from their graves, and I knew them.

"They could do wonders by the power of the imagination," says Glanvil of the gypsies; "their fancy binding that of others." Understand by imagination and fancy all that Glanvil really meant, and I agree with him. It is a matter of history that, since the Aryan morning of mankind, the Romanys have been chiromancing, and, following it, trying to read people's minds and bind them to belief. Thousands of years of transmitted hereditary influences always result in something; it has really resulted with the gypsies in an instinctive, though undeveloped, intuitive perception, which a sympathetic mind acquires from them,—nay, is compelled to acquire, out of mere self-defense; and when gained, it manifests itself in many forms,

"But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill."



It is true that the American gypsy has grown more vigorous in this country, and, like many plants, has thriven better for being trans—I was about to write incautiously ported, but, on second thought, say planted. Strangely enough, he is more Romany than ever. I have had many opportunities of studying both the elders from England and the younger gypsies, born of English parents, and I have found that there is unquestionably a great improvement in the race here, even from a gypsy stand-point. The young sapling, under more favorable influences, has pushed out from the old root, and grown stronger. The causes for this are varied. Gypsies, like peacocks, thrive best when allowed to range afar. Il faut leur donner le clef des champs (you must give them the key of the fields), as I once heard an old Frenchman, employed on Delmonico's Long Island farm, lang syne, say of that splendid poultry. And what a range they have, from the Atlantic to the Pacific! Marry, sir, 't is like roaming from sunrise to sunset, east and west, "and from the aurora borealis to a Southern blue-jay," and no man shall make them afraid. Wood! "Well, 't is a kushto tem for kasht" (a fair land for timber), as a very decent Romani-chal said to me one afternoon. It was thinking of him which led me to these remarks.

I had gone with my niece—who speaks Romany—out to a gypsyry by Oaklands Park, and found there one of our good people, with his wife and children, in a tent. Hard by was the wagon and the horse, and, after the usual initiatory amazement at being accosted in the kalo jib, or black language, had been survived, we settled down into conversation. It was a fine autumnal day, Indian-summery,—the many in one of all that is fine in weather all the world over, put into a single glorious sense,—a sense of bracing air and sunshine not over-bold or bright, and purple, tawny hues in western skies, and dim, sweet feelings of the olden time. And as we sat lounging in lowly seats, and talked about the people and their ways, it seemed to me as if I were again in Devonshire or Surrey. Our host—for every gypsy who is visited treats you as a guest, thus much Oriental politeness being deeply set in him—had been in America from boyhood, but he seemed to be perfectly acquainted with all whom I had known over the sea. Only one thing he had not heard, the death of old Gentilla Cooper, of the Devil's Dyke, near Brighton, for I had just received a letter from England announcing the sad news.

"Yes, this America is a good country for travelers. We can go South in winter. Aye, the land is big enough to go to a warm side in winter, and a cool one in summer. But I don't go South, because I don't like the people; I don't get along with them. Some Romanys do. Yes, but I'm not on that horse, I hear that the old country's getting to be a hard place for our people. Yes, just as you say, there's no tan to hatch, no place to stay in there, unless you pay as much as if you went to a hotel. 'T isn't so here. Some places they're uncivil, but mostly we can get wood and water, and a place for a tent, and a bite for the old gry [horse]. The country people like to see us come, in many places. They're more high-minded and hon'rable here than they are in England. If we can cheat them in horse-dealin' they stand it as gentlemen always ought to do among themselves in such games. Horse-dealin' is horse-stealin', in a way, among real gentlemen. If I can Jew you or you do me, it's all square in gamblin', and nobody has any call to complain. Therefore, I allow that Americans are higher up as gentlemen than what they are in England. It is not all of one side, like a jug-handle, either. Many of these American farmers can cheat me, and have done it, and are proud of it. Oh, yes; they're much higher toned here. In England, if you put off a bavolengro [broken-winded horse] on a fellow he comes after you with a chinamangri [writ]. Here he goes like a man and swindles somebody else with the gry, instead of sneaking off to a magistrate.

"Yes," he continued, "England's a little country, very little, indeed, but it is astonishing how many Romanys come out of it over here. Do I notice any change in them after coming? I do. When they first come, they drink liquor or beer all the time. After a while they stop heavy drinking."

I may here observe that even in England the gypsy, although his getting drunk is too often regulated or limited simply by his means, seldom shows in his person the results of long-continued intemperance. Living in the open air, taking much exercise, constantly practicing boxing, rough riding, and other manly sports, he is "as hard as nails," and generally lives to a hearty old age. As he very much prefers beer to spirits, it may be a question whether excess in such drinking is really any serious injury to him. The ancestors of the common English peasants have for a thousand, it may be for two thousand, years or more all got drunk on beer, whenever they could afford it, and yet a more powerful human being than the English peasant does not exist. It may be that the weaklings all die at an early age. This I cannot deny, nor that those who survive are simply so tough that beer cannot kill them. What this gypsy said of the impartial and liberal manner in which he and his kind are received by the farmers is also true. I once conversed on this subject with a gentleman farmer, and his remarks were much like those of the Rom. I inferred from what he said that the coming of a party of gypsy horse-dealers into his neighborhood was welcomed much as the passengers on a Southern steamboat were wont of old to welcome the proprietor of a portable faro bank. "I think," said he, "that the last time the gypsies were here they left more than they took away." An old Rom told me once that in some parts of New Jersey they were obliged to watch their tents and wagons very carefully for fear of the country people. I do not answer for the truth of this. It speaks vast volumes for the cleverness of gypsies that they can actually make a living by trading horses in New Spain.

It is very true that in many parts of America the wanderers are welcomed with feux de joie, or with salutes of shot-guns,—the guns, unfortunately, being shotted and aimed at them. I have mentioned in another chapter, on a Gypsy Magic Spell, that once in Tennessee, when an old Romany mother had succeeded in hoaxing a farmer's wife out of all she had in the world, the neighboring farmers took the witch, and, with a view to preventing effectually further depredation, caused her to pass "through flames material and temporal unto flames immaterial and eternal;" that is to say, they burned her alive. But the gypsy would much prefer having to deal with lynchers than with lawyers. Like the hedge-hog, which is typically a gypsy animal, he likes better to be eaten by those of his own kind than to be crushed into dirt by those who do not understand him. This story of the hedge-hog was cited from my first gypsy book by Sir Charles Dilke, in a speech in which he made an application of it to certain conservatives who remained blindly suffering by their own party. It will hold good forever. Gypsies never flourished so in Europe as during the days when every man's hand was against them. It is said that they raided and plundered about Scotland for fifty years before they were definitely discovered to be mere marauders, for the Scots themselves were so much given up to similar pursuits that the gypsies passed unnoticed.

The American gypsies do not beg, like their English brothers, and particularly their English sisters. This fact speaks volumes for their greater prosperity and for the influence which association with a proud race has on the poorest people. Our friends at Oaklands always welcomed us as guests. On another occasion when we went there, I said to my niece, "If we find strangers who do not know us, do not speak at first in Romany. Let us astonish them." We came to a tent, before which sat a very dark, old-fashioned gypsy woman. I paused before her, and said in English,—

"Can you tell a fortune for a young lady?"

"She don't want her fortune told," replied the old woman, suspiciously and cautiously, or it may be with a view of drawing us on. "No, I can't tell fortunes."

At this the young lady was so astonished that, without thinking of what she was saying, or in what language, she cried,—

"Dordi! Can't tute pen dukkerin?" (Look! Can't you tell fortunes?)

This unaffected outburst had a greater effect than the most deeply studied theatrical situation could have brought about. The old dame stared at me and at the lady as if bewildered, and cried,—

"In the name of God, what kind of gypsies are you?"

"Oh! mendui shom bori chovihani!" cried L., laughing; "we are a great witch and a wizard, and if you can't tell me my fortune, I'll tell yours. Hold out your hand, and cross mine with a dollar, and I'll tell you as big a lie as you ever penned a galderli Gorgio [a green Gentile]."

"Well," exclaimed the gypsy, "I'll believe that you can tell fortunes or do anything! Dordi! dordi! but this is wonderful. Yet you're not the first Romany rani [lady] I ever met. There's one in Delaware: a boridiri [very great] lady she is, and true Romany,—flick o the jib te rinkeni adosta [quick of tongue and fair of face]. Well, I am glad to see you." "Who is that talking there?" cried a man's voice from within the tent. He had heard Romany, and he spoke it, and came out expecting to see familiar faces. His own was a study, as his glance encountered mine. As soon as he understood that I came as a friend, he gave way to infinite joy, mingled with sincerest grief that he had not at hand the means of displaying hospitality to such distinguished Romanys as we evidently were. He bewailed the absence of strong drink. Would we have some tea made? Would I accompany him to the next tavern, and have some beer? All at once a happy thought struck him. He went into the tent and brought out a piece of tobacco, which I was compelled to accept. Refusal would have been unkind, for it was given from the very heart. George Borrow tells us that, in Spain, a poor gypsy once brought him a pomegranate as a first acquaintanceship token. A gypsy is a gypsy wherever you find him.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse