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Title: Romany Life - Experienced and Observed during many Years of Friendly - Intercourse with the Gypsies
Author: Cuttriss, Frank
Language: English
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[Illustration: DŌSHA.]






_First published 1915_


It is a curious fact, that while very few can be found nowadays to
accept without question, fanciful or otherwise, unscientific statements
concerning natural objects or supernatural happenings, many time-worn,
misleading accounts of gypsies and what they are supposed to do—but
do not—are still implicitly credited by a great majority of thinking
people. A solution of this may be looked for in one or other of the
following surmises, perhaps—more or less—in all:

  That the widespread unacquaintance with the real Romany
  character and gypsy life is due to the dearth of reliable
  information, and to the fictional nature of much that has been
  written on the subject.

  That most writers have endeavoured to satisfy the public
  interest in the subject by the ever-available fiction, for the
  reason that the suspicious, reticent, and often unapproachable
  attitude of gypsies generally renders it difficult to provide
  material from the life.

  That the prevailing unsympathetic attitude of non-gypsies in
  general, and of many of those who would approach the gypsies
  for literary purposes in particular, reacts on them and
  increases the tenseness of the situation.

Hearsay, in matters concerning the gypsies, even when emanating from
presumably reliable sources, cannot altogether be relied upon. Unless
one lives among them and as one of them, goes freely to and fro, sees
and hears for himself, understanding the while most of what may be said
in Romany, slang and English,—a lingual conglomerate heard nowhere but
among these people,—his accounts will be of little value in depicting
aspects of Romany life.

Just how much truth, if any, there may be in the invariable assertion
by gypsies, that I have a good deal of the true Romany in my
composition, I am unable to say; there can, however, be no doubt
whatever of their belief in it, nor that their tenacity on the point,
coupled with my adaptability to their manner of life, and my use of
their tongue (which I cannot but admit seems to me a language I
might have used in a previous existence), have proved a veritable
“open sesame,” admitting me to the innermost circle of friendship,
and enabling me, while not breaking faith with them, to describe
truthfully, customs and aspects of their life which do not come within
the ken of the gorgio or non-gypsy.

Although it might be considered by some, that the insertion of a
certain amount of fiction would add glitter to my narration, I have
religiously refrained from making any such addition, feeling that the
work, in so far as it is a revelation of little-known aspects of Romany
life, would, under such conditions, lose its entire value.


A glossary of most of the Romany and cant words it has been expedient
to use in this work, together with English equivalents, will be found
at the end.

N.B.—It must be distinctly understood that none of the incidents
related in this book must be taken to apply, or to allude in any way to
any living persons, and that the photographs must not be considered as
having any connection with any particular incident related.


  DŌSHA                                    _Frontispiece_

  ARTICLES OF DAILY LIFE               _To face page_   6

  AN OCTOGENARIAN                          ”      ”    24

     WORLD,” ETC.                          ”      ”    28

  DOUBLE TENT. WINTER                      ”      ”    32

  SINGLE TENT. SUMMER                      ”      ”    34

  GYPSY TENT, SHOWING INTERIOR             ”      ”    38

  GYPSY TENT, SHOWING CONSTRUCTION         ”      ”    44

  “SHOSHOI”                                ”      ”    53

  MRS. BESHALEY                            ”      ”    66

  WINTER                                   ”      ”    82

  DŌSHA                                    ”      ”    89

  DŌSHA                                    ”      ”    90

     TRACE”                                ”      ”    92

  JEWELLERY                                ”      ”   112

  STYLES OF HAIRDRESSING                   ”      ”   117

  A “ROMANICHAL”                           ”      ”   118

  ITALIAN CAP                              ”      ”   120

  “MAIDEN MEDITATION”                      ”      ”   122


  CARRYING CHILD ON HIP                    ”      ”   126

  “YOU LIKE ME THE BEST”                   ”      ”   128

  AROUND THE CAMP FIRE                     ”      ”   140

  TYPES OF LIVING-WAGON                    ”      ”   150

  CARAVAN SHOWING FIREPLACE                ”      ”   152

  A GOOD TYPE OF CARAVAN                   ”      ”   154

  THE MAKER OF TOY CHAIRS                  ”      ”   161

  THE TRUE “PATERAN”                       ”      ”   168

  CAMP OF CLOTHES-PEG MAKERS               ”      ”   170

  “TO ME MEN ARE WHAT THEY ARE”            ”      ”   173

  “IT’S A MERRY LIFE”                      ”      ”   189

  “DOLCE FAR NIENTE”                       ”      ”   196

  “THE WEAKER SEX?”                        ”      ”   198

  “BEAUX YEUX”                             ”      ”   200

  “WHEN THE HEART IS YOUNG”                ”      ”   202

  “PASSING GLEAMS OF RESTLESS MIRTH”       ”      ”   204

  THE POST-PRANDIAL HALF-HOUR              ”      ”   206

  “TATCHEY ROMANIES”                       ”      ”   208

  “DUI KUSHTI KAULO YOCKS”                 ”      ”   212

  “MANDE’S GRY”                            ”      ”   218

  A “RINKENY CHI”                          ”      ”   220

  “NO PLACE LIKE HOME”                     ”      ”   222

  “LIFE’S EVENTIDE”                        ”      ”   230

  HOME-MADE ARTICLES                       ”      ”   262

  BUNCHING “DAFFIES”                       ”      ”   266

  THE “DARK ROOM”                          ”      ”   268

 OFF TO THE “OPPIN”                        ”      ”   274



The terms “gypsy” and “tramp” are by many considered synonymous. It
is not, however, by any means the case, for while gypsies may be, and
sometimes are, mistaken for tramps, the genuine professional tramp and
the Tachey Romany, or true gypsy, have very little in common.

The tramp may perhaps be described as one who is dominated by the early
instincts of our race,—instincts which in every one of us are but just
below the veneer of civilization,—for we know that in the infancy of
the human race man was perforce of a roving, restless and predatory
disposition, driven by circumstances to wander in search of food, and,
as in the case of plants which have been improved,—civilized, if you
will, by cultivation,—there is always the tendency to return to the
primitive state, so every civilized man is more or less insistently
urged by Nature to disregard the conventions of Society, to live in the
open air and to wander.

We may then take it that the professional tramp demonstrates this
instinct combined with a detestation of honest toil. Such men sometimes
depart from the ways of their kind and adopt the manner of life of
the gypsy, and, when living under such conditions, they are, in some
districts, designated “Mumpers.” Sometimes these mumpers intermarry
with the gypsies, adopt their mode of living and assimilate many
of their customs and portions of their language, with the result
that their progeny exhibit many of the true Romany characteristics.
Sometimes such half-caste gypsies are called “diddecoys,” but one also
hears the term loosely applied to the true gypsy. I have heard it most
frequently by the people of Hampshire, and occasionally by the gypsies
themselves. A man once said to me, “I ain’t an old diddecoy like my
missus; I was born in a house, but she’s always been a travelling lady.”

Of the caravan or tent dwellers it is difficult to say which are the
more interesting, as owners of caravans may be frequently found camping
in tents,—perhaps while the van is undergoing repairs, or because it
will not accommodate the whole of the family. Again, a family will,
for a time, take to “life under the tan” and later we may see them
located in a van, it will therefore be better to make no invidious
comparisons but treat of both van and tent dweller impartially. To the
student, the life led by the habitual tent dwellers will appeal the
more strongly as many of them have not associated with the outside
world to quite the same extent as their caravan brethren and they are
therefore, in some respects, the more interesting, and we can gain
from them a much better idea of the primitive dwellings and general
conditions under which most of the gypsies lived during those centuries
of wandering both in India and after their emigration. Concerning much
of their wanderings, history is dumb, but certain facts stand out in
strong relief, for historians relate how in 1414 they appeared in
Germany and France in bands, gaining a livelihood by the practice of

Bands of them went to Persia as musicians, others engaged in various
trades and scattered all over Europe. Their appearance in England dates
from about 1480.

We read that the Persian monarch Behran Gour received from an Indian
king 12,000 musicians of both sexes who were known as “Lûris” or
“Lûlis,” and in this record of what is presumably the first emigration
of the gypsies, the term “Lûris” is identical with that by which
gypsies are known in Persia to-day. Pursuing the theme, we note the
statement by old writers that “between al-Mansura and Mokrau the waters
of the Indus have formed marshes, the borders of which are inhabited by
certain Indian tribes called Zott, they are true nomads, living in huts
like the Berbers.” We are told further that in the Arabic dictionary
al-Kamus this entry occurs—“Zott arabicized from Jatt, a people of
Indian origin.” Zott, by the way, is the name by which the gypsies are
known to the Arabs.

Much space might, of course, be devoted to accounts of the life of
these people after their departure from India to their arrival upon our
shores, but it is a long, and often a sad story. A book, too, might
be written on “The Arts and Devices used in Persecuting the Gypsies,”
as in all countries,—not excepting our own,—they have received most
inhuman treatment, and all who possess the smallest spark of Christian
charity must feel ashamed of many of their countrymen. At the present
day our methods differ it is true, but are we at heart more tolerant
than our forefathers? do we not still drive the Romany chal and Romany
chi from hedge to hedge? the only respite being when they are allowed
to encamp for a short time on ground known to them as “Kekkeno mush’s
poov,” or to us as “No man’s ground,” otherwise, a common. Both
policeman and keeper appear to regard them as vermin and would fain
treat them as such. Seldom—it would seem—do they seek to gain really
reliable information concerning them, while the keeper, displaying the
ignorance and bigotry usually associated with his office, and, coupling
with it a desire to stand well in his employer’s opinion, goes even so
far as to bear false witness against them. Such cases have been brought
to my notice and it should, I think, be scarcely a matter for surprise
if a keeper or office bearer of that ilk has the error of his ways
forcibly demonstrated to him or upon him by one whom he has traduced.

A gypsy never forgets either a kindness or an intentional injury.

A keeper is, or should be, a trusted man, and while he may present his
friends with game shot upon his master’s estate and take advantage to
almost any extent of that curious term—perquisite, so great is his
honesty and his consideration for his employer that he is willing to
affirm—on his oath if needs be—that he has detected gypsies in the
act of poaching on milord’s estate at the same instant of time he and
his brother keepers or intimates were drinking to the health of anyone
rather than themselves at the local “hotel.” In a court of justice the
judge himself is probably a land-owner and preserver of game and is
prone to accept the statement of anyone whom he considers trustworthy,
and the gypsy whom he may regard as having been “born in sin” will
probably be sent to eat the prison loaf.

I hold no brief for the gypsies, nor contend that they are better
or worse than others, neither do I close my eyes to the fact that
treatment such as I have known them to be subjected to cannot be
defended either on the score of Christian charity or the normal
Englishman’s love of fair play.

Can it then be wondered at that the gypsy is taciturn, difficult to
approach, suspicious of all men?


           1. Lamp for Oil.
        2, 3. Lamps for Candles.
           4. Kettle Crane (old Cornish).
  5, 6, 8, 9. Crane Heads.
           7. Crane designed to carry both Kettle and Cooking Pot.
  10, 15, 17. Simple Kettle Supports.
  11, 12, 13. Knives for Wood-working.
          14. Stand for Fire Tray.
          16. Iron Tripod.
      18, 19. Framework of Tents.
      20, 21. Elevation and Plan of Tent.
          22. Frying-pan.]

To go back a little, we find we must give Henry VIII credit for issuing
the first act of persecution against the gypsies, Mary and Elizabeth
followed suit, and at last even capital punishment was prescribed as a
means of getting rid of them.

Nowadays it is somewhat difficult to realise that, formerly, because
a people or a class were not understood, those who were in power
should, for no other reason, become obsessed with the insane idea of
annihilating them.

In France under Louis XIII and Louis XIV some of the gypsies were
massacred, others barely escaped with their lives, while in 1633 Philip
IV appears to have forbidden them to use their own language, and in
1745 a decree was issued ordering the putting to death of all wandering

Fortunately, this could not be carried out to the letter. Yet, with all
this persecution, past and present, the gypsy, when really known and
understood, is one of the best of friends. “Aye, it’s a merry life and
plenty o’ fun,” said one to me recently.

I do not, however, wish to convey the impression that he is a
perpetually happy being. None can be more variable, one minute he
may be convulsed with laughter, the next—deeply despondent. His
temperament has much to remind one of the changeability of Nature,
sunshine one moment, the next a darkened sky. The gypsy, too, has much
of the child in his composition, he is as a child that somehow has
never fully grown up, not that he is childish, far from it, but long
contact with the gypsy and close study of gypsy character present them
to me as a people who are actuated to the full by all the passions and
emotions of healthy, natural manhood, and yet never really let go their
hold on childhood.

Are you a kairengro or house-dweller who visits him, then he will
seldom exhibit his cunning—and in all the arts pertaining to his
trade or trades he is usually remarkably clever—he thinks you “jal
a moskeying,” that is, go a-spying, than which there is nothing
perhaps he dislikes more, unless it be to be seen by a gorgio or
non-gypsy in the act of having a meal. He may talk to you, he may
be most entertaining, but he may be probing your heart and mind at
the same time, and not until you have long passed satisfactorily his
hawk-eyed, soul-searching examination, will he regard you as more
than any other gorgio or Gentile, but, if you can converse in his own
tongue—the Romany jib he loves so well but never or seldom displays
before a stranger—and he is assured of your good intentions by long
acquaintance, then only will he open out and reveal himself, and give,
as it were, his seal to the friendship by inviting you to partake of a
meal with his family, indeed, he would be likely to fight for you or
share his last penny with you if need be, and you then come to realise
that with all his complexity of character, there lies beneath, a warm
heart and generous disposition.

Many are handicapped by being unable to read or write. I have in mind
a Romany acquaintance who does a good business, but has to rely on the
help of friends to order his wares and pay his accounts for him. He
came to me one day and asked if I could write another letter for him,
adding, almost as though speaking to himself, “It’s a love-letter this

“Well,” said I, after pen and paper had been procured, “please go
ahead.” For a moment or two he seemed lost in thought and hesitated,
as though at a loss how to begin. I offered a suggestion and he at
once said, “Yes! put that down.” The ice being now broken we got
along famously, he standing with his back towards me, dictating.
The letter was written in a combination of English (of a sort) and
Romany,—poggado jib or broken tongue as it is termed. Perhaps no
more curious camipen-lil (love-letter) had ever been written. As he
was quite unable to write I signed his name—he had, in fact, almost
forgotten how it should be spelled. Having done this I quite naturally
supposed my task was completed, but no, he desired every available
bit of space filled in with crosses. “What are those for?” I asked
artlessly. “Oh, she’ll understand,” he replied. “Put in some more,

I therefore made crosses both big and small wherever they could be
squeezed in, until he seemed satisfied, but I sincerely trust his
Romany chi did not try to count them. One can almost imagine her making
the attempt: “Yeck, dui, trin, stor, pantsch, sho,” and before reaching
“dui trins ta yeck” and “dui stors,” giving up the task as being beyond

Many of the gypsies are, of course, able to write, but they get little
schooling in the ordinary sense of the term and I have heard the
gypsies say they do not like their boys and girls to sit next to a lot
of gorgio children in a school. Better times are ahead, however, for
the school-master is abroad, and there are workers among them, notably
the Church Army Mission, whose self-sacrificing men teach the children
the alphabet, elementary arithmetic, etc., together with such simple
Christian truths as they can assimilate, for in the children lies
their hope. An aspect of the work of the Mission which is not seen by
the passer-by, is the tactful, considerate help rendered in times of
distress. A gypsy, whatever his status, has a certain pride and he will
not, if he can avoid it, visit a relieving officer; the workers of the
Mission, however, with an equally keen insight into human nature, have
perhaps a more sympathetic heart, enabling them to find out real cases
of need, when they help to the best of their ability, often when such
help should really be forthcoming from the relieving officer.

Unfortunately, many writers fail to discriminate between the Chorodies
(low, wandering outcasts) and the Romany chals (true gypsies). Scathing
letters have appeared in the newspapers, condemning all gypsies and
other nomads as incorrigible rogues, and suggesting fourteenth-century
methods for their removal. One writer—I will not debase the word by
calling him man—said he did not care what became of them so long
as they did not come near him,—a strikingly unbeautiful example of
existing intolerance.

However, it is not my aim, nor province, to answer directly the
newspaper letters of selfish and pharisaical people, but rather to
exhibit the gypsy character, and to speak of the gypsy as I have found
and know him, no better, no worse; to carry the reader in imagination
with me, to see them at work, to sit by the camp fire, to listen to
their quaint folk tales, the wise saying and the merry jest, and
endeavour to do some little to modify the effect of the ignorant or
vindictive doctrine of those who, generation after generation, have
taught the young that the terms gypsy, tramp and vagabond are more
or less alike, standing for most that is depraved and villainous.
In the few cases, when in after life some acquaintance with gypsy
character has been made, this idea has, of course, been much modified,
or altogether dissipated, while a close and sympathetic study of the
Romany folk has invariably led to a desire to condone their failings,
or at least to consider them of small account in comparison with so
much that is commendable.

Upon more than one occasion has my clothing—permeated by the wood
smoke of the gypsy fire—betrayed to acquaintances the fact that I had
been among the Romany folk, and given the opportunity for jeering
observations anent the “tents of the ungodly,” but, as the old adage
has it, “he laughs best who laughs last,” and it is indeed gratifying
to be able later in life to conjure up pleasant pictures of one’s
friends seated, as they were, around the camp fire.

One such of many similar scenes is deeply impressed on my memory: I was
at the camp of a Romany friend and we had discussed an early supper
of povengros (potatoes) and salt, washed down with tea, when someone
suggested a song. There may be sweeter melodies than songs in the
Romany, as sung by the chies, but I have yet to hear them. There is a
sweetness and a certain wild attractiveness about the language well
adapted to the poetry of music, and the gypsies are passionate lovers
of beautiful sounds. A poem read to them in Spanish, pleases their
ear, they understand perhaps not a word, but appreciate the rhythm.
Their language, too, reminds one somewhat of that tongue. I am however,

By the camp fire that evening, our talk, after a song or two, was
mostly in and of the Romany tongue. One would narrate some experience,
another would take up the thread, and so on, the firelight meanwhile
playing on their faces. The soughing of the light wind overhead seemed
attuned to the weirdness of the scene, and the while, the pageant of
one of the loveliest of summer sunsets was passing, every merging
scene having its glory duplicated on the reflecting surface of the
river, which, winding and looping in its course, glided and faded
imperceptibly into a purple haze, the whole scene changing momentarily,
but with a tranquillity which, “while moving, seemed asleep,” until it
passed through an almost unearthly splendour of afterglow into the cool
star-depths of the summer night.

In extenuation—perhaps I should say explanation—of the conduct of
those who think unkindly or deal harshly with the gypsies on principle,
I suggest that they neither really know nor try to understand them;
moreover, the likelihood of their personally gaining any such knowledge
of them as results from experiences of the nature I have attempted to
describe, is very remote; indeed, so suspicious and unapproachable are
they—mainly because we as a people have made them so—that were one
to cultivate their acquaintance, with the very best of intentions,
years would probably elapse before he would be welcomed as a true pal
(brother), and not until then would he understand them or appreciate
their outlook on things.

Personally, I have found them, as companions, scrupulously honest; with
regard, however, to farmers and landowners who are known to dislike
the gypsies, this opinion might need some slight modification, but
here again one should endeavour to see things from the gypsies’ point
of view. They do not as a rule look upon poaching as wrong, contending
that they are illtreated by man-made laws, that rabbits were provided
for man’s sustenance, and that it is not more sinful for a gypsy to
catch a rabbit to ward off starvation from his family, than for another
man to run over it with a motor-car, and in fairness to the gypsies it
must be said that they probably poach less than the average village

Apropos of their ideas of honesty, a friend tells me that many years
since, a family of gypsies encamped near the town of ——, and his
father gave them permission to draw all the water they needed from the
well on his land. During the long stay of the family in the locality he
did not lose one pennyworth by their depredations, notwithstanding that
all around chickens and other live stock disappeared—left home as it
were and forgot to return. There would appear to have been no actual
proof that the gypsies were implicated, but the animals vanished during
the time the gypsies were encamped there.

One cannot speak too highly of such traits in their character as love
of their children and mutual help. When bad luck comes they bow to the
inevitable, accepting it with a philosophy not possible to many of us.
When times are good, there is mutton in the pot and “spotted donkey,”
suet puddings, grace the festive board, and for this he is thankful,
but when his luck is out, he tightens his belt a little and looks
forward to the morrow,—his luck may turn, who knows?

Great indeed is the contrast between the luxury-loving, well-to-do man
about town of to-day and these Romany folk, a people who have scarcely
changed since they left India hundreds of years ago. Our progress in
Art and Science has scarcely touched them, they still retain their
language and many of their old customs, while the ethnographic student
will readily distinguish the prevalent Oriental cast of features. Many
of them set about their daily task much as did their early ancestors,
who lived in the same kind of tent. Even the little hanging-lamps
we see occasionally in the tents are of a design that is as old as
the hills, and to-day the Hindu uses just such a lamp. There is much
that is primitive, also much that is supremely fascinating about the
true gypsy, and if we could imagine him without his archaic, musical
language, he would still be a far more interesting and clear-cut
personality than the average gorgio or non-gypsy, and the reader will
find that we owe more to the gypsy than is commonly supposed.

Perhaps no more convincing proof of their Indian origin can be adduced
than the following short vocabulary of Romany words, selected to show
their similarity to Hindustanee and Sanscrit. It may be contended that
the language contains words derived from other nations or sources.
Fragments of other tongues have naturally crept in, but in this respect
an Englishman is scarcely the person to criticize.


  Ana.           Bring.         S. Ani.
  Aok.           The eye.       H. Awk.
  Ava.           Yes.           S. Eva.
  Bal.           Hair.          S. Bala. H. Bal.
  Bata.          A bee.         S. Pata.
  Bebee.         Aunt.          H. Beebe.
  Bokht.         Luck.          S. Bhāgya.
  Boro.          Great.         H. Bura.
  Bori-pawnee.   Ocean.         H. Bura-panee.
  Bute.          Much.          H. Būt.
  Can.           The sun.       H. Khan.
  Chik.          Earth, dirt.   H. Chikkar.
  Choom.         To kiss.       S. Chumb.
  Chore.         Thief.         H. Chor.
  Choro.         Poor.          H. Shor.
  Churi.         Knife.         H. Churi.
  Coco.          Uncle.         H. Caucau.
  Dad.           Father.        H. Dada.
  Dand.          Tooth.         S. Danta.
  Devel.         God.           S. Deva.
  Divvus.        Day.           S. Divasa.
  Dur.           Far.           S. Dur.
  Gare.          To hide.       S. Ghar.
  Gono.          A sack.        H. Gon.
  Gry.           A horse.       H. Ghora or Gorra.
  Jib.           To live.       S. Jiv.
  Kaun.          An ear.        S. Karna.
  Kaulo.         Black.         S. Kala.
  Ker.           A house.       S. Griha, H. Gurr.
  Lang.          Lame.          S. Lang.
  Lon.           Salt.          H. Lon.
  Mang.          To beg.        H. Mangna.
  Manushi.       Woman.         S. Manushi.
  Mui.           Mouth.         H. Mu.
  Mutchee.       Fish.          H. Muchee.
  Nok.           Nose.          H. Nakh, or Nak.
  Peero.         Foot.          H. Parow.
  Pi.            To drink.      S. Piva.
  Pukker.        To speak.      H. Pukar.
  Puro.          Old.           S. Purā.
  Putsi.         Purse.         S. Putā.
  Rawnie.        Lady.          H. Ranee.
  Rup.           Silver.        H. Rupee.
  Sik.           The taste.     H. Tschik.
  Siva.          To sew.        S. Siv.
  Sonnikey.      Gold.          H. Suna.
  Sutta.         Sleep.         H. Sutta.
  Yokki.         Clever.        S. Yoga.

In the following list of numerals the words for seven and eight are
given, but nowadays few gypsies use them, many having forgotten them.

Instead of efta, or seven, they say Dui trins ta yeck, and for octo,
eight, Dui stors is used, for nine, Dui stors ta yeck, meaning
respectively, two threes and one, two fours, and two fours and one.


  Yeck.    One.      Ek.
  Dui.     Two.      Du.
  Trin.    Three.    Tin.
  Stor.    Four.     Tschar.
  Pantsch. Five.     Pansch.
  Tschowe. Six.      Tscho.
  Efta.    Seven.    Hefta.
  Ochto.   Eight.    Aute.
  Des.     Ten.      Des.
  Bis.     Twenty.   Bjs.


Recently, while visiting a Romany encampment, I found so many old
friends whom I had desired to see again, and from whom it was
difficult—without giving offence—to tear oneself away, that the work
of my pen was getting sadly in arrear, and I determined to devote two
or three hours one afternoon to the task of writing. Selecting a spot
under a hedge which seemed to offer sufficient privacy and a fairly
comfortable seat, I set to work with a resolve to cover a lot of paper.

I had been thus busily engaged for some considerable time—and was in
the throes of straightening out a particularly obstinate paragraph,
when a man sauntered up and threw himself down upon the grass near me
with a manner intended to intimate that he was willing to talk. He
opened conversation, as most of the Romanies do, by asking the time,
then he wondered if I had such a thing as a “lucifer” about me. Having
lit up a terribly evil-smelling and much-blackened cutty pipe he made
an ejaculatory remark with reference to a mosquito that had settled
upon the back of his hand. There is no need to repeat what he said, but
it bore no resemblance to Romany.

Thus, having as it were cleared the decks for action, he waited,
seeming to have something to say when I should care to listen. I had
so far made good use of the afternoon, and, although much remained
for me to do, I could not follow my habitual practice of making fresh
Romany friends whenever possible if I kept my head buried in my papers,
therefore, after folding up my notes, I seated myself somewhat nearer
to my companion, and after a few casual remarks and opinions regarding
the prospect for fruit and hops, he said he wished me to write a
letter for him as he was unable to do it himself. “You’re a por-engro
I’m told, and have written many a lil for Romany folk,” said he, in a
somewhat questioning way. “That is true,” I answered, and, producing
a sheet of paper, I wrote at his dictation. It was not nearly so
interesting as a camipen-lil, or love-letter, as it related only to
some new “sparks,” as the diamonds used in china-drilling are termed,
which he desired to be sent to him and for which he had procured a
postal order, this I duly filled in and crossed.

During the writing of this order a woman loitered towards us, later,
two younger women approached. The little group stood at a considerate
distance until the task was completed, when they came nearer and seated
themselves tailor-wise, or, rather should I say, gypsy-fashion, each of
the younger women producing a cigarette and the older woman a clay pipe
of generous capacity. When all had lit up, one said to me:

“Do you rokkra Romany?” Upon receiving my reply in the affirmative she
said somewhat sharply:

“Who taught you? You’re a kairengro, aren’t you?”

“Why do you think that?” I queried. To this she vouchsafed no reply,
appearing not to have heard the question, but after gazing steadily at
me for quite an appreciable time she asked:

“Why don’t you get a van and come along o’ us? You must get tired o’
stopping in one place.”

I confessed that such was the case.

“Then why do you stay under a roof?”

Here the older woman joined in with:

“I was born outside myself, I’m the mother o’ seventeen children, and,
please the Almighty, I’m going to die outside, why, I suffocates in a
house, there ain’t no air in a house,—you never gets air in a house!”

“Look at the pale faces of them as lives in ’em,” said one of the
younger women,—“but you”—she continued, turning to me—“are one o’
the dark ones.”

“That is perhaps lucky for me,” I remarked.

“Yes, ’tis so,” was the reply, “all Romany chies hates a pale face, at
least all but the silly ones.”

“But,” said I, “if I procured a van and travelled about with you, I
am not sure that I should feel altogether safe, for we might disagree
sometimes and perhaps fight, in which case I should come out badly, for
the little fighting I do is with pen and ink and I am no master with
either gloves or fists.”

“Safe!” exclaimed the man, “you’d be safe, ab-so-lutely, nobody would
fight, wouldn’t want to fight with you anyhow; as for me, I could fall
out with you, but if you refused to shake hands with me the next minute
I should say you’re no pal o’ mine.”

[Illustration: AN OCTOGENARIAN.]

We may note in passing, that this portion of our free and easy
conversation, which is set down verbatim as it took place, aptly
illustrates the following among the features which stand out in the
Romany character:

  The possession of a kind of clairvoyance which enables them to
    promptly and accurately “size up” the sympathies of a chance

  Their instinctive dislike and distrust of fair or pale people.

  Their good-fellowship and ready reciprocation of kindness.

  Their alacrity in recovering from misunderstandings and
    ebullitions of temper, albeit they never forget an intentional
    slight or injustice.

Presently the conversation was switched on to the subject of weddings.

“Some of our folk are getting ‘spliced’ in a week or two in that church
yonder,” said one of the women, “but yer know we don’t all get married
by the clergyman, whatever clever people may say about it. Many a chal
and chi are married in the good old Roman way.”

“And how is that?” I asked, adding, “Just among yourselves, I suppose?”

“Auvli,” she replied, “you takes mande by the vast,—so,”—suiting
action to word she placed her hand in my grasp—“and,” she continued,
“you pukker to mande tute will always be a tacho Romado and mande pens
she’ll be a tacho Romadi to you.”

“So that’s Romipen (marriage),” said I—“and do you consider it

“Always, prala,” she replied impressively.

“Supposing the man did not think it was, and left you?” I ventured.

“So much the worse for him,” she answered—“for whenever any of my
people saw him they’d down him with a cosh.”

“Is that the gypsy law?”

“That is the gypsy law, prala.”

The earnest manner, and the convincing tone in which all this was said
left no room for doubt that the unwritten laws of the Romanies are
really felt by them to be more sacred and binding than the law of the
land,—the former being obeyed because of an inherited respect for
them, or a mystical allegiance to tribal traditions, while the latter
would appear to command respect only on account of the physical force

The gypsy wedding is usually accompanied by a spree by way of
celebration, and unhappily some of the company emulate the gorgios at
similar functions by getting into a state quite the reverse of sober.
Such conduct, even if pardonable on these occasions, is of course
discreditable, but to be quite just to the gypsy I must say that his
behaviour in the circumstances seems to be less bestial than that of
many a non-gypsy who professedly despises him.

“Are you married?” asked one of the girls of me.

“No,” I replied.

“Well, you ain’t got much to worry about,” said she, with a saucy smile.

Not far from our group was a camp that had all day appeared deserted
save for a child or two left “on guard.”

Now there came from it sounds as of meat sizzling in the frying-pan,
while clouds of wood-smoke ascended and a cheery voice called out:

“Will you join us?—you’re welcome.”

Accordingly, we went over to the living wagons and tents and found
several women busily engaged in preparing for the evening meal; one was
dexterously manipulating a frying-pan, another tended the fire, and so

I was invited to partake of the meal with a family whose home was a
tent. In the way of food there was bread and jam, German sausage and
bread, and bowls of tea. As I was the guest I was offered for a seat a
boot-repairing iron upon which a piece of sacking was placed to modify
its undesirable qualities. I imagine it would take years of practice to
enable one to sit with any degree of comfort on a boot-repairing iron,
but I determined to make the best of it and to appear as though I liked
it and had sat upon nothing but boot-irons all my life. However, the
fumes from the coke fire hard by proved almost too much for me and I
was in danger of falling from my precarious perch. My friends evidently
noticed this as they made a less uncertain seat for me by upturning an
empty bucket and covering the bottom with an old coat as a cushion.


  “There is in all this cold and hollow world
  No fount of deep, strong, deathless love,
  Save that within a mother’s heart.”


Almost everyone has some recollection of the brown tents of the gypsy
fraternity, which, at longer or shorter intervals, may be seen dotted
here and there upon the commons. Comparatively few, however, have any
close-range acquaintance even with the exterior of these primitive
dwellings, and fewer still have any idea of the arrangement of the
interior. In many of the poorest tents of the gypsies of southern
England there really is no arrangement, in fact, there is almost
“no nothing,” as someone with a touch of pathetic facetiousness has
described their condition, but the tent in which I now found myself
belonged to a family of genuine Romanies and differed somewhat from
those of the poorer tent-dwellers.

The fire—whose fumes had at first given me trouble—was contained in
a circular and rather deep kind of iron tray about fifteen inches in
diameter which was kept from actual contact with the ground by being
supported on three old bricks; over the fire a kettle was suspended by
the kekauvisky saster—frequently called a crane—the kettle iron.

Reference to our illustration on page 38 will enable one at a glance
to get an idea of the general arrangement. At the end farthest removed
from the fire were the beds, in front of which, and raised some four
or five inches from the floor, was a sort of divan composed of straw
evenly laid and covered with cloths, the remainder of the floor space
being bare earth. Curtains were hung before the beds, giving something
of an Oriental air to the interior.

There were, too, a few cushions that had seen much service but
nevertheless were clean, besides which there was practically nothing
but the customary box for the storage of china and food, and yet this
was, and had been for more than twenty years, the dwelling of these
Romany folk, honest people, who had worked hard—often for a bare
subsistence—but who had nevertheless reared a large family of healthy
children without appealing to charity. And they were proud, too,
boasting of a long line of proud ancestors.

This set me a-thinking, and as I sat there these thoughts passed
through my mind:

“If pride in one’s ancestry is justifiable, have not these people far
saner reasons for such pride than those who boast of having ‘come over
with the Conqueror’?” It is indeed true that their Romany forbears were
not numbered among the cut-throat rabble who accompanied the historic
William of Normandy, but they come of a people who had a history,
literature and a language when that gentleman made his début.

Like their near relatives, the Hindus of to-day, many of the gypsies
can neither read nor write, but usually our Romany friend has a sound
mind in a sound body, and when he points—as he well may—to the blots
on our civilization and the shams in our religion, I do not wonder at
the up-hill work of those good souls among us who seek to instil the
Christ spirit into the minds of those whom the world dubs outcasts,
and yet surprise is evinced that the progress of our missions to these
people is slow. How heart-breaking the work is only those who are
engaged in it know. But a truce to moralizing. I must bestir myself or
my friends will judge me dull.

After the meal the kettle needed to be again filled and the water
heated preparatory to a general wash and clean up, and I heard a young
girl ordering her younger brother to—

“Put the panee on the yog, yer fool, and mind yer put some soda in,”
which of course meant—“Put the water on the fire and add some soda.”
He was afterwards instructed by the mother to “clean the churi’s on
the poov,” and set about it by utilizing the hard earth floor as a
knife-board, in doing which I noticed that he sensibly selected a
miniature mound upon which to rub the blades so that his knuckles
should not be subjected to the same cleaning process as the knives,
which were ultimately stowed away quite clean, if they had not received
a high polish.

Work for the day—which in this case had been strawberry picking—being
over, the time before turning in was whiled away with tales of the
road, common and forest, and stories of keepers, police and other
bugbears of nomadic life. When my companion considered that a sketch
would help his narrative he made a rough drawing on the hard earth—of
a road or other subject—with the charred end of a piece of stick, and
I discovered that he worked out simple accounts connected with his work
in the same manner.

Turning to the fire I observed to my friend:

“One seldom comes across a tripod nowadays, I suppose they are no
longer used?”

“Well,” said he, “now you mention it, I don’t think I’ve seen more than
two or three for years. One I saw at a pony fair in the New Forest, and
I believe I have seen one or two in Kent, but real old genuine ones
would most likely be valuable now just as old copper kettles are.”

[Illustration: DOUBLE TENT. WINTER.]

“I know someone,” he continued, “who had a very old one, in fact it
was too old to use, but it fetched a good bit o’ money, it was all
hand-hammered, mind you. I shouldn’t ha’ sold it if it had been mine,
but the woman as had it was hard up, and you don’t think much about
anything when you’re hungry except satisfyin’ your belly, and there was
kiddies wanting bread too.”

“But,” he added retrospectively, “now nearly all use the crane.”

The washing of the crockery being finished and the beds having been
made, I could see that my friends would soon retire for the night; I
therefore bade them good night and wended my way homeward. As I passed
now a tent, now a van, cheery voices rang out:

“Good night, who is it?”

“Por-engro,” said I.

“All right,” was the reply, “good night to you.”

In ascending a little hill on my way I halted for a second and looked
back. In the dim distance lights glimmered here and there and I
reflected that in a few minutes all the occupants would be slumbering,
perhaps not even expecting outsiders,—the beasts of burden, and the
betie juggals tuley the wardoes, those cute little mongrel dogs under
the vans, which one never _finds_ asleep.

Again I turned my face towards home, feeling physically very tired,
while mentally I was actively engaged in turning over the events of
the day, and reviewing, to the credit of my gypsy acquaintances, the
self-sacrifices I had witnessed and the little kindnesses I had seen
them perform one to the other, sometimes even under the cloak of rough
behaviour and sharp words, but one could make no mistake as to the love
they have for the children. This has always impressed me as one of the
good traits in the gypsies’ somewhat complex character, and one that
may well efface a multitude of sins. One of their women once said to me:

“I couldn’t see ’em want. Folks say it’s wrong to take chickens and
rabbits, but if I knew I should get six months for it and I could keep
the kiddies from starvin’, I’d get ’em the grub and take my six months.”

Speaking of food brings to mind domestic utensils and appliances, and
a short description of those commonly in use among the tent-dwelling
gypsies will not be out of place here. It will be obvious that as these
people are true nomads, such goods and chattels as they carry about
with them must be easily portable as well as indispensable.

[Illustration: SINGLE TENT. SUMMER.]

The possessor of a van is, of course, able to carry more, and is often
a person of some means, but the tent-dweller’s means of transport—if
indeed he possess any but the sinews of his family—consists of a
horse and cart, or sometimes only of a vehicle scarcely worthy of the
name of cart, and a dilapidated donkey whose coat reminds one of a
badly moth-eaten hearth-rug; we refrain, however, from comparing the
Romany “moke” with its well-fed and sleek relatives of the seaside.

One of the most important of the domestic implements—and therefore
one that is in almost universal use—is the crane or kettle prop—the
kekauvisky saster, kekauvi meaning kettle, and saster, in gypsy,
standing for iron, will sufficiently explain this curious name. It is
not only used for the kettle but also for suspending the inevitable
pirry or boiler over the fire. In effect, these cranes are alike, but
a number of patterns may be found, any one costing from a shilling to
half a crown. One I have seen a great many times has the end fashioned
to resemble an adder, others are quite plain with a knob, while others
have a ball a short distance from the tip. In substance they vary from
about five-eighths of an inch to an inch or so in diameter and are
about three feet six in length, usually round, but occasionally square
in section. They are used by thrusting the straight end into the
ground at an angle which will bring a vessel suspended from the hook
over the centre of the fire. In the simplest form the end of the crane
for thrusting into the ground is merely tapered to a point, but others
may be seen having a rectangular bulge which is likewise pointed, both
forms being also used by thrusting, or auger-wise, for making holes in
hard ground for the insertion of the tent rods.

It is interesting to note that, according to information supplied by
one long resident in India, the Hindus most nearly resembling our
gypsies do not use the crane, but in place of it stones or pieces of
green wood full of sap are employed, being placed so that the earthen
cooking vessel rests upon them. In the latter case the cooking is
completed before the wooden supports are burned through.

Some of the cranes are very old, the snake-like one to which we have
alluded being a case in point, having been made in Cornwall about a
century ago, since when it has been in constant use by the same family.

The articles next in importance are kettle and boiler, the kettle
perhaps holding first place, as the very poorest family which cannot
boast of a boiler will invariably possess a kettle.

This is occasionally of copper, but as no time is spent in
unnecessarily cleaning any of these utensils their composition can only
be ascertained after free use of a pocket knife. The boiler is nearly
always composed of iron, is oval in form and of fair capacity.

Each member of the family, excepting the young children, is usually
provided with a knife, fork and spoon,—of sorts,—but should either,
or both fork and spoon be wanting, as is not infrequently the case,
no difficulty seems to be experienced in conveying any food to the
mouth by the knife. It must, of course, be borne in mind that these
observations apply to the tent-dwellers, their brethren of the van
being generally better supplied with domestic conveniences. A basin
or two, a few plates, a bucket for water and sometimes a bottle for
drinking water,—even a gypsy finding it easier to drink from a bottle
than from a pail—will about complete the list, but an odd saucepan or
two, a frying-pan and one or more dishes may occasionally be found.
A frying-pan for hanging upon the crane which we discovered upon one
occasion is illustrated.[1]

There are several reasons why the gypsies do not as a rule make a
camp fire directly on the ground, the most obvious being perhaps
that their method precludes the burning of the turf, which in some
districts at least would cause trouble, and the free passage of
air under the fire aids combustion to some extent, while it allows
the fire and accompaniments to be rearranged under cover in the
space of a few seconds, should a sudden change of weather render it
advisable; moreover, it is an easy matter to obliterate traces of a
recent encampment. Sheet iron—very frequently in the form of an old
tea-tray—is used, upon which to build the fire; this is supported upon
pieces of iron bar bent roughly to the shape of a figure 7, the longer
ends of which are driven a little way into the ground.

Some possess an iron stand for the purpose, shaped as shown in Fig.
14,[2] in which at points a, b, c, will be seen small studs or
elevations, the purpose of which is apparently to reduce to a minimum
contact between tray and stand, with a view to conserve heat.


Before leaving as a topic the fire and its appurtenances, a word must
be said with reference to the methods adopted by those who are not
fortunate enough to possess a crane.

The simplest arrangement I have seen consisted merely of part of the
fairly straight branch of a tree, one end of which was thrust into the
ground at an angle—crane fashion, the other end having affixed to it
a hook of wire, which looked suspiciously like part of a barbed-wire
fence. Another of these kettle-supports might very well have been
designed by primitive man; two forked branches had been pushed into
the ground two or three feet apart, and lying in the forked upper ends
was another stick having upon it two or three crudely fashioned hooks.
Another and even less ambitious contrivance consisted of two rough
sticks thrust into the ground similarly to those just described, but,
having no forked tops, the horizontal stick was tied in position with
string and wire, and was furnished with the usual hooks for the kettle.

Although there is in most tents a box in which food and breakables are
stored, yet one may often see a loaf or loaves of bread in an uncovered
basket, or otherwise exposed to sun and wind; under these conditions it
speedily becomes as dry as the proverbial chip, but hunger and good
teeth make all the difference in one’s ideas as to what is eatable. I
have seen the children devouring such bread with an appetite and with a
zest that would be the envy of many an epicure.

I hope, however, to say something about food and roadside cookery later.

As most of the gypsies go to sleep at dusk, or as soon as night has
fallen, it will be understood that little provision is made for
illuminating their tents, and, as would be expected, such as exists is
primitive, a lamp usually consisting of a small bowl supported by a
bent wire terminating with a loop or hook for suspending from the tent
rods. A heavy oil such as colza is used, the wick being supported by a
bent wire. Candles are also used in these lamps, but I have seen in use
lamps made especially for them.

The tent dwellings of the gypsies greatly resemble each other, and,
with few exceptions, are of the simple arched form that has probably
characterized them from the earliest times: a close acquaintance with
them, however, will reveal certain differences or modifications which
may perhaps be peculiar to members of a certain family or tribe. I
do not wish to convey the idea that different tribes have any very
decided differences in their tents, nevertheless in some respects they
will probably differ sufficiently to enable one who is well acquainted
with these people to say, almost with certainty, what families
inhabit certain tents. Alterations are also made to suit the changing
seasons and the differences of camping grounds. In summer the single
tent is principally in evidence, in winter nearly all who possess
sufficient material make up a double tent by the simple method of
placing two single ones in line, face to face a short distance apart,
the intervening space being filled in by a few long rods pushed into
the ground at an angle approximating the curve of the tents on either
side, and covered with blanketing pinned in position to connect the two
tents, and as the upper ends of the rods are free and uncovered, they
provide a combination of ventilating shaft and chimney, the fire being
always made directly beneath the opening. As a whole this arrangement
bears a certain resemblance to the wigwam of the Red man.

The construction of one of the tents is quite a simple matter, and
although no ropes or similar stays are used, the tent has yet to be
devised that will prove to be more secure in rough weather, more
comfortable in all weathers to the occupier, more “roomy” for its
size, or less costly to construct; at the same time the gypsy tent may
be very quickly erected or dismantled and packs into a small compass.

The numerous good qualities of these simple structures will perhaps
be more readily realized if the construction of one be described and
followed from commencement to completion.

The first essential is a piece of ash or oak,—preferably the former,
as being less likely to split,—about five feet long by three inches
broad and one and a half inches thick. This should be bored with
a series of five pairs of three-quarter inch holes. A gypsy would
accomplish this by burning out the holes with the tapered end of the
crane brought to a red heat.

Next procure twelve or thirteen green hazel or ash rods about five feet
six inches in length, taper the ends of ten of these so that they may
fit snugly into the ridge-piece just described, having done which, the
other ends of the rods must be pushed into holes in the ground already
made at proper distances by means of the crane, so that by “croming”
or bending over the rods, five on each side arch-fashion, they are
held firmly in position by the ridge-piece into which they fit. The
skeleton of the tent will now be complete but for the two or three
rods to form the framework of the end,—these rods, by the way, may be
somewhat longer than those for the sides,—they should be thrust into
holes in the ground at a suitable distance, bent over the first or
nearest of the arched rods and pushed under the next, thus completing
the framework.

When the owner of the tent has his choice of material for the covering,
brown blanketing is generally selected, as very little rain water gets
through, it is decidedly warm in winter, and in the form of old Army
blankets is fairly cheap; it is secured in place by means of skewers,
horse-shoe nails, blackthorn spines, or wood pins that have been fried
in fat, a process which renders them waterproof and easy to insert.

All too frequently, however, the impecunious “gippo” has to be content
with whatever he can get hold of to shield him from wind, rain and
snow, and not infrequently, one finds such materials used as bits
of canvas, sailcloth, old carpeting, worn-out waterproof or other
garments, together with odds and ends of a variety of fabrics, the
original uses of which it is impossible to even guess at. In the single
tent are pieces of blanketing which during the day are turned aside,
but at night are let down so as to cover the entrance and fulfil the
functions of a door.

In boisterous weather a protecting sheet of canvas or blanket called
the “loo” is fixed up on the windward side of the fire; in the case of
the double tent such a “loo” is formed by the covering on either side
of the central portion when left closed to windward while the other is
uncovered, as most frequently it is in autumn and mild winter weather.
The tents vary much in size but the approximate dimensions of a single
one are:

Three feet six inches to six feet in length, five feet six wide, and
three to four feet in height, while a double tent may be about five
feet six inches wide, thirteen to fourteen feet in length and four feet
in height.

Gypsies do not, as a rule, use a ground sheet, but contrive to keep
tolerably dry without one. For bedding, they often use bracken or
heather-tops, which are sometimes covered with sacking or pieces of
canvas, at another time they will use a sack loosely stuffed with hay
or straw, and not infrequently they will sleep with nothing between
themselves and the otherwise bare earth but such loose rags or straw as
they may have been able to bring together.


Those who are accustomed to some kind of bed—in the generally accepted
sense of the word—will not consider this enticing; nevertheless, while
the seductive nature of a few rags as a bed upon the ground may well
be ignored, bracken, heather, hay, etc., are used with a considerable
amount of satisfaction and a kind of primitive comfort by these people.

In appraising the term “comfort” in its application to gypsy life one
must not forget that it is a word of comparative significance, nor that
the gypsy is reared in a scant nursery and is thereby rendered immune
from the petty annoyances and complaints that beset daily the life of
the pampered,—may we not correctly say, ultra-civilized,—for the
gypsy lives a healthy, open-air life, with sun, wind and rain as his
closest companions, taking no anxious thought for the morrow, with the
result that he is seldom seriously unwell or unfit,—to quote the words
of an Indian gypsy to an acquaintance of mine:

“Gypsies are ill but once,”—a general statement which appears to be as
applicable to our English Romanies as to their Hindu brethren.


  “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we
  must take it with us or we find it not.”—EMERSON.

Hitherto, the injunction, “Seek, and ye shall find,” would appear to
have been construed with sinistral intention of seeking to discredit
the gypsy, by most of those who have professed to give an insight to
Romany life, presuming, of course, that the word-pictures presented by
them have described their impressions and have not been filched ideas
served up anew.

This seemingly ungenerous observation is warranted by the fact that
the justifiably suspicious attitude of the gypsy has in all but a few
noteworthy instances kept the gorgio at a distance, and it may be
safely inferred that no true description or estimate of Romany life and
character is possible excepting as the result of an admitted friendship
with the people.

Unlovable features exist in every community—gypsy or otherwise—and
unfortunately, perhaps, for the reputation of the gypsies, their
inaccessibility has in most cases necessitated the employment by the
gorgio writer of “narrow-angle” vision (to use a photographic simile),
the inevitable result of which has been that their unattractive
qualities loom large in the foreground, and upon these attention is
focussed, while the real picture in the rear is obliterated or rendered

Many of the Romany folk are unable to read, which fact, in conjunction
with their manner of living, places them at a great disadvantage with
respect to the expression of their ideas on many topics, but that
they appreciate the beautiful in nature, have a crude philosophy, and
decided opinions on equity may be gathered from the following incidents
and conversational anecdotes, which I give with colloquialisms verbatim.

One evening, as the setting sun was transforming the western horizon
into a panorama of wonderful colour-blending, I came upon a young gypsy
woman standing upon a slight eminence evidently watching the glorious
sky. Just as I came up to her, a motor vehicle whizzed past on the
road near to us. The gypsy turned to view the begoggled occupants and,
perceiving me, blurted out—

“What do you think they look like?” while her lip curved and a look
of intense contempt came into her face for the modern man and woman in
the car, who were whisking through space, raising clouds of dust and
leaving behind, both literally and figuratively, a nasty taste in one’s
mouth. Turning again to the magnificent sky picture she remarked as
though she were a different woman:

“I say, ain’t it lovely!”

I expressed my agreement with her in appreciating the lovely scene,
but soon descended to more mundane matters by asking if she had seen
anything of a particular branch of the Vardomescro family, for if they
were, as I supposed, in the vicinity, I intended to visit the camp.
She replied that she thought they must have moved before she came to
the spot last evening. However, I searched around with the hope of
finding some sign that would enable me to ascertain their whereabouts.
I soon found what may be termed their notice of change of address,
but as the arrangement of sticks and leaves had been to some extent
disturbed,—presumably by some wandering animal,—it was a little
difficult to decipher, nevertheless there was sufficient to indicate
that they had gone about two miles away to the north.

As it was now too late in the evening to set out I decided to postpone
my visit until the morrow, which, judging from the stratus clouds about
the setting sun, would be fine.

In the morning, after putting up a few sandwiches, in case I was unable
to discover my friends, I set out for the locality in which I expected
to find them. Failing to observe any indication of their presence I sat
down and listened intently, having many a time located a camp by the
noise of children playing, the sound of wood being chopped or broken
for the fire and so on, but now nothing broke the silence to guide me;
I concluded, therefore, that they had again gone on, but as I had not
found the site of their last camp I had little hope of tracing them and
was thinking of returning when, at less than a hundred yards distant, I
saw a member of the family I had been seeking,—a young woman upon whom
had been bestowed the name of Sinfai Vardomescro—known to the gorgio
as Miss Cooper. She informed me that the remainder of the family were
away but might return at any minute, that she was just going to fetch
a bucket of water and would be back at the camp in a few minutes. She
then went on for the water while I set off for the tents, the position
of which she had pointed out. Upon reaching the camp I found a seat on
an old box and, awaiting events, had nothing to do but think.

The gypsies being uppermost in my mind, I experienced a sensation
of something akin to envy as I ruminated,—“it was true Science
was a meaningless word to them, literature equally a term without
signification, the existence of arts, manufactures and commerce was but
dimly realized by them, and yet,—did they not enjoy a fuller freedom
than I,—did they not escape the cares, worries and anxieties that were
inseparable from a state of respectability,—so called,—they had never
even heard of Mrs. Grundy,—they”—but here my musing was cut short by
the arrival of Sinfai with the water.

“Do you know anything about cookin’?” she asked.

“How should I?” said I; “it’s hardly been my line up to the present.”

“Then,” she retorted, “you’d better jolly well begin to learn at once.”

“All right,” said I, laughing. “What’s on the menu?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” was the reply; “but we’ve got
to get some poovengroes ready first of all,—here’s a churi for you.”

Taking the proffered knife, I set to work scraping potatoes. Sinfai,
overlooking my performance, remarked approvingly—“Ain’t so bad for a
start,—we shall make a Romany out o’ you ’fore long.”

While occupied thus as lady’s help I inquired of my instructress,
“Where’s your mother today, Sinfai, is she dukkerin?”

“Sh—h!” she replied, “don’t talk so loud, some mush may shoon what
you pens. We has to be careful nowadays, the police is down on
us,—dukkerin ain’t what it used to be; one time we made a good bit by
it—but there! it’s no good worrying about it. I say, Rye, ain’t you
never had your fortune told?”

“Yes, Miss —— told it,” I admitted.

“Oh, she ain’t no good at it,” said Sinfai with a sniff; “it allus
must be told by a dark person. It’s a gift, you know, and the gorgios
as can’t do it of course says it’s dreadful wicked and oughter be
put a stop to. Do you believe in it?” she inquired, with a quizzical

“I hardly know,” I replied, somewhat evasively.

“You’ll agree that we knows more about some people than they think, I
suppose?” she asked.

“Yes, certainly,” said I.

“Well, then,” rejoined Sinfai in a confidential manner, “dukkerin is
only tellin’ ’em what we know. Do you know, the first time I ever saw
you and before you’d said half a dozen words, I knew what county you
came from,—I’ve travelled that way, you see, and when you came to our
camp the first time and sat down, I said to myself, ‘’Taint the first
time he’s sat at a Roman camp fire.’ And I was right too, wasn’t I?” I
admitted that it was so.

“Well,” she continued, “if I’d told your fortune I should ha’ told you
that and of course made you pay for it.”

“Money appears to be quite necessary,” I remarked.

“Well,” said she, “you know we must live somehow,” adding with a merry
twinkle, “but I’ll tell yours for nothing if you like.”

“By the way, who did you think could, in a place like this, overhear my
question about fortune telling?” I inquired.

[Illustration: “SHOSHOI.”]

“You never know,” she replied, “but I’ve known folks as ought to bin
doin’ something better, sneak about and lie hidin’ in the bushes to
hear what us Romanies was talking about, but our ears are better than
theirs, so we know they’re listenin’, and we talk for their benefit.”

“Why don’t you rokkra Romany so they couldn’t understand?” I queried.

“’Cos we _wants_ the dinneloes to understand,” she answered.

“So that you may play the fool with them,” I added.

“That’s it,” she assented, unblushingly; “if they expects to catch us
nappin’ they’re mistaken. So we settles it we’re going to catch shoshoi
at a certain place. The man in the bushes hears it and off he goes and
lies in wait for us. Where do we go? Why another way, of course, and
then we have rabbit—but talkin’s all very well, my Rye, but we haven’t
lit the fire yet and the kettle ought to be bilin’; have you got a

She gathered together some pieces of paper and a number of sticks and
tried to get a fire going, but it was of no use, the material was damp.

“Bust the thing!” ejaculated my companion; “rum stuff to light a fire
with—I got wet through the other day getting some of it too. Didn’t I
catch cold? bless you no; shouldn’t know what to do with one if I had

I congratulated her on her immunity.

“Lucky!” she repeated rather ruefully, “am I; look at that fire, fair
smokes you out,” then rather insinuatingly added:

“Now you got on all right with the poovengroes, suppose you try your
hand at gettin’ her a-goin’,” at the same time nodding towards the
fire, which certainly smoked terribly, but appeared very unwilling to
burn as desired.

“Well,” said I, perhaps rather ungallantly, “I suppose I may as well do
that as sit and look at you.”

“Oh, I don’t mind being looked at,” returned Sinfai, “but you might
help with the fire at the same time,—jest see what I do, and if you
make some like them, we’ll have her going in no time.”

Hereupon she took a piece of dry deal from an old box and split from
it a slip; this she deftly cut from one end almost to the other in a
series of leafy shavings around it, and in such a manner that each
shaving remained attached to the stick. Together we prepared a number
of these and arranged them in a conical pile, each one having the
detached end of the chips downward, and a match was applied.

“Got him!” exclaimed Sinfai in her impulsive way as we fed the flames,
at first with small twigs, then with larger pieces, and although there
was a superabundance of pungent smoke, we had also a cheery, crackling

The kettle was now filled and hung upon the crane, the potatoes were
cut into thick slices and set cooking with some meat in the frying-pan.
A saucepan was next half-filled with water in readiness for a smoked
haddock Vardomescro _père_ was expected to bring.

“Listen!” said Sinfai, “there’s dad coming,” and, although at the
moment I could hear nothing to indicate the approach of any living
thing, the lapse of a few minutes proved the superior keenness of her
hearing, for I began to catch—very indistinctly at first—snatches of
the old fellow’s favourite song, “Poor old Joe.”

“Ah! here he comes,” added Sinfai as he approached; “he’s allus ’appy.”
In this instance, however, the ’appiness had some connection with
refreshment recently imbibed.

Extracting a small parcel from his coat pocket he handed it to her,

“There y’are, nice bit o’ fish that. I couldn’t get no haddicks ’cept
fillets, and that little lot cost me fourteen pence with a kipper for

Turning to me he continued—

“I can’t stand haddick, yer know, but a kipper nicely smoked, with a
lot o’ bread and butter, that’s what I like.”

At this juncture the “missis” appeared carrying a large basket which
contained,—beside a few oddments of lace and thread, mending wool,
shoe laces and reels of cotton,—some loaves of bread and other

Mention should be made, by the way, of the hawker’s licence, which,
carefully stowed away in an envelope, was always left in the basket in
case it should be necessary or advisable to demonstrate that her sole
means of subsistence was the peddling of lace and other small wares.

There can be no doubt that dukkerin paid best.

The man was about to seat himself preparatory to partaking of the meal,
when his wife—noticing the dirty state of his hands—told him in a
forcible manner that he should not “sit down to tea with hands like

Looking in my direction, and, assuming a manner evidently intended to
appear as an apology for his wife’s outburst, the man observed—

“Ain’t she obsurd now her ole man’s come home.”

I noticed that nevertheless he dutifully washed his hands but made
a lame attempt to assert his position as head of the establishment
at the expense of the puppy that had just nestled down upon his bed,
exclaiming as he turned it out—

“Git hout you, d’ye ’ear, I don’t want no fleas in my bed,—never had a
dog in my tent and ain’t agoin’ to; get hout.”

In this camp, however, as in many another, the woman ruled.

Even a short acquaintance with almost any of these wanderers will
reveal the fact that they possess quite a fund of humour, and will not
infrequently make quaint, trite, or humorous allusions, sometimes even
intensely funny remarks, and be, apparently, quite unconscious of doing
so, the family with whom I was now fraternizing being no exception.

After the meal, when the younger children had been packed away, the
conversation touched upon a number of subjects, varying from theft to
aeroplanes, and from personal cleanliness to disasters at sea,—for the
gypsy seems to be unable to concentrate his attention for any length of
time, but wanders from subject to subject.

In conversing with them one should not be surprised if the
conversation takes all sorts of twists and turns. That the gypsy is
incapable of viewing matters from a standpoint other than his own, must
be considered as the inevitable result of his aloofness.

Some reference having been made to the distinctions of _meum_ and
_tuum_, the mother said—

“Do you know what I’d do if a child o’ mine was to beg, or collar
anything? Why I’d prison him for three weeks an’ feed him on bread and
water, that’s the truth,—I ain’t a lyin’ woman though I’m sittin’
here,—an’ I can’t abide dirty children,” she continued. “Cleanliness
is next to godliness, they say, an’ you gets a big lump o’ soap for
a penny nowadays, and I can tell you, Rye, my kiddies ain’t chiklo

The fact that the tents were in decent condition and the children had
appeared fairly well clothed and shod had not escaped my notice, while
the meal which had just been partaken of had been on a more lavish
scale than I had anticipated and I made some remark to that effect.

“Yes, thank God!” was the unmistakably sincere reply of the man.
“I’ve bin in work most o’ the time the last four months, ain’t I,
mother?—but we knows what it is to have nothin’ inside, and because
we have to get used to the feel of a hungry belly it ain’t to say we
likes it. D’you know, Rye, many’s the time I’ve gone to sleep for an
hour or two in the daytime when I couldn’t get no work, so I could
forget I was hungry.”

At this point the wife addressed me, proffering the advice—

“Don’t you never go near ——; she’s a bad lot, you’ll know her anywhere
if you meet her ’cos she’s got a mouth like a ’oss collar. She be a
lippety tippoty sort, ain’t no good to nobody; besides, she’s got a
awful temper on her; as for me, d’ye know, I could keep my temper for
seven year; d—n you, you are clumsy,” this being said in the same
breath to her child, who had, presumably, got up from bed for a drink
of water and had upset the can; she then straightway continued talking
as though no interruption had occurred, and chattered on from one
subject to another with scarcely a break—

“My husband can read, you know, and he had a paper lent him that had
got in it all about a big boat sinking,—nearly everybody was drowned,
it said, pani-mushes and all.

“It’s my belief the world’s got too full o’ people and that’s the way
the Almighty’s got o’ thinnin’ ’em out. Lord save us all, ain’t it
awful to think of ’em all alive same as you and me and then——!

“Yes, my Rye, this country’s good enough for me. Starvation’s ahead
next winter for some of us I dare say—but then, folks can starve in
Canada too.

“Do you know, as we was sittin’ here last week, one of them aeroplanes
come nearly over right up there,—I don’t believe in them things,—if
we was meant to fly I’m certain the Almighty would ha’ given us a pair
o’ wings apiece.”

In this way her tongue ran on. At length she asked—

“Are you an invalid in your left hand? Why do you hold it like that?”

This curiously expressed inquiry was suggested by the position in which
I was holding my hand to relieve pain caused by carrying a heavy camera
during several days of wandering.

Heavy clouds had been gathering for some little time and rain had
seemed imminent, now it pattered down in a fashion that promised a

“Come into the tent,” said my hostess, “there ain’t no
creepers,—tramps gets ’em, we don’t.”

She had scarcely finished speaking when she scratched her head

“Yus!” she ejaculated as she noticed my attempt to suppress a smile.

“Them’s gnats!”

“Dordi!” she exclaimed as we got under cover. “Did you hear that? It
sounded like thunder; hope we ain’t goin’ to get any, it foretells
a death, you know; we had a dreadful storm the night before Mrs.
Beshaley’s little ’un died.”

Hearing a footfall, Mrs. Vardomescro applied one eye to a small hole in
the tent blanket, then said—

“Make room there, Bill, she’s coming here.”

By shifting around a little we made room for one more and I must
confess I was very glad to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Beshaley,
for she was one of the nicest, in addition to being one of the most
beautiful of Romany women I had met. She appeared to be between
twenty-five and thirty years of age; she wore no hat but had her
hair—which was intensely black—plaited somewhat elaborately, the
plaits hanging over her ears passed around the back of her head in a
style facetiously termed “the door-knocker pattern.” Nevertheless, it
suited her. In her ears were gold ear-rings of a curious crescentic
design, and around the neck she had four rows of large red beads. She
was dressed in black, being in mourning for her little boy.

After I had been introduced to her by Mrs. Vardomescro as “a friend who
jinned what was pen’d in Romany,” all took part in the conversation.
Most of what passed would have little general interest, but there is
pathos in the following reference made by the new-comer to her recent
loss which must not be passed by, and which is an unconscious, albeit
welcome, refutation of charges of impassiveness, and the indifference
of gypsies to the welfare of their children. An illuminating glimpse
may also be obtained of an aspect of Romany life that is rarely, if
ever, paraded—before the gorgio.

“My little boy who died,” said Mrs. Beshaley, “was a stiff little chap,
he’d talk like a man and would stop older children teasing birds or any
animals, saying, ‘mustn’t do it, mustn’t do it.’ Dear little fellow, he
was too good, so—he had to leave us.”

Silently, our sympathies went out to the bereaved mother, who, as
though oblivious of our presence, continued—soliloquizing—

  “Mande’s chavo’s lelled oprey,
  He’s jalled to the praio tem,
  Yeck divvus I shall dick leste,
  Though the poov he’ll dick kek komi.”

  My child is taken above,
  He’s gone to the children’s home,
  One day I will see my love,
  Though the earth no more he’ll roam.

One could see that this trouble still lay heavily upon her, and that
she derived a melancholy satisfaction from speaking of the little one
who had been so much to her.

“Do you know,” said she, awaking from her temporary stupor, “I felt
that I couldn’t stay alone in my van while the storm was going over,
but I think I must be getting back now.”

Bidding me good night she held out her hand, saying—

“My husband will be at home to-morrow, he would like to have a talk
with you; will you come and have tea with us? it isn’t much we’ve got
to offer, but to what there is you’re quite welcome. Good night to you

When the retreating footsteps could no longer be heard, Mrs.
Vardomescro remarked—

“There’s still a few good folk left in the world and she’s one of ’em,
and yet this has come to her. But the Almighty knows best.”

The storm being practically over, I stepped from the tent into the
open, finding the air deliciously cool and refreshing, and as it was
getting late I bade adieu to my friends—“and so home,” as the old
diarist so quaintly expresses it.

Next evening I sought out the van occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Beshaley
from among several drawn up in the same field. They had one of the most
comfortable—not to say luxurious—vans I had ever entered; however, as
the weather was gloriously fine, tea was, as usual, partaken of outside.

The man’s conversation interested me greatly, and although at times he
expressed himself somewhat curiously, he was by no means an ignoramus.

“Look here,” said he, “some folks don’t like us gypsies, in fact many
people are afraid of us, and perhaps it’s all the better for us and for
them as well that it is so. I reckon the gorgios are conceited, they’ll
tell you their way of living in houses is the best, but we know very
well our way is the best, and to prove it let me ask you why do the
doctors send people for what they call the open-air treatment? Why do
they send hundreds and thousands o’ kiddies into the country every year
from London? Bless me! you can very nearly see ’em grow and go brown.
Why do they do this if their way is the best?

“And just think too what lots of the well-to-do people have got vans
lately and fitted ’em out like hotels so they can play at bein’
gypsies. I’ll bet you yeck posh korauna to your shohaury that they
don’t know how to chin a ran nor how to scrape a poovengro, and then
they go home to their friends and say, ‘We’ve been gypsying, and it’s
delightful.’ Oh, yes, Rye, I know how they talk,—and they say, ‘Really
it’s quite inexpensive, you can hire a wagon for five or six pounds a
week and if you economize it works out at next to nothing.’ A man cook
sees to all the food for ’em, then they have a groom to ’tend to the
horse, another man to open the newspaper and so on. Some of ’em pay for
it of course, but I dare say some don’t, like the old song says—

  “A Rye and a Rawnie
  Jall’d yeck divvus
  To jib the Romany jibben,
  They chor’d a rinkeny vardo
  For which they both were stardo
  This bis bershor ta dui.”

Being most anxious to secure a portrait of Mrs. Beshaley I asked her
husband if he would object to my photographing her.

“Not at all,” was his hearty reply. “I should like one of her myself,
but I’m afraid you won’t get her to agree to it.”

Therefore, when she next appeared I proffered my request.

“No!” she replied, politely but very firmly. “I wouldn’t have my
photograph taken for any money,—my brother once wanted me to have it
done, but I wouldn’t, and then he offered me a golden sovereign if I
would have it taken, but I didn’t, and I never will. Can’t you draw?”
she inquired, and upon receiving my reply in the affirmative, added—

“You are welcome to draw my portrait at any time, but I won’t be
photographed if I know it.”

Considering this a great concession, and fearful lest the permission
should be withdrawn, I made my working sketch on the spot.

I could not then, and I cannot now, understand the difference in effect
on the sitter between having a portrait photographed or drawn. That
there was to her some subtle distinction which she probably could
not, and most certainly would not, explain there can be no manner of
doubt, and I can only suggest that photo-chemical action was a mystery
to her, and that, in a subconscious or indefinable way, it was regarded
as likely to rob her of some part of her psychic entity.

[Illustration: MRS. BESHALEY.]

The ordeal over, Mr. Beshaley picked up the thread of our earlier
conversation and continued—

“Well, there’s good and bad folk among us the same as other people,
but gypsies have always had a bad name among the gorgios,—you might
almost think gypsies were all bad, and all the gorgios good,” he added,
laughing. “I know one gorgio,” he went on, “who said, ‘Drive all the
gypsies away somewhere, I don’t care where they go, so long as they
don’t come near me,’ yet mind you this very man reads the lessons in

“Such as him would be the first to grumble if strawberries went up a
few pence the basket.

“What would the fruit-growers, the hop-growers and goodness knows who
else, do without us?

“Can a farmer keep on all the year the hands who help at the busy
season? No! you know as well as I do it wouldn’t pay him.

“We have what we call our ‘runs,’ you know,—at one time we do a bit of
potato planting and cleaning, afterwards we travel to the strawberry
country, then we go on haymaking and field pea-picking.

“I’ve told you what we do for a living,” he continued; “might I ask you
what you do?”

“Well,” I answered, “I am what your folk call a por-engro, and I
suppose that is correct.”

“And you are writing a lil about us?” he queried.

“Yes,” said I; “at least I hope to do so.”

“And they tell me you go about alone among us; why, some wouldn’t feel

“It really seems as if I ought to think you are a bad lot,” I observed,

“And so we are, at least that’s what folks who jaw to us for our good
tell us,” he replied, at the same time giving a knowing wink.

“Do you make much _sugar_ at your game?” he inquired with apparent

“Not nearly so much,” I replied, “as I think I should at

To this he made no rejoinder but shook his head deprecatingly, seeing
that I was quizzing him.

“Well,” said he, resuming, “you know that gorgios say the gypsy is a
lazy, good-for-nothing fellow, and if he works at all it’s only a kind
of accident, but you’ve been among us and know different, how in the
season we start sometimes at four o’clock in the morning and work all
day till seven or eight at night. Some folks think strawberry-picking
is a easy job, but let them as thinks so try it; let ’em work in the
glare of the sun day after day till their eyes smart as ours often do.
I’ve known many a man who’s had to knock off ’cause his eyes was so
bad,—and they’d find too there can’t be a more back-aching job than
pickin’ strawberries hour after hour.

“You might put that in your lil, and perhaps some of the folks as reads
it’ll think all the better of us.

“Of course some seasons are better than others,” he resumed; “this
year some of our folk will come off badly, the frost ‘played up’ the
bloom anyhow. A while back the flowers looked fine, but a frost come
one night and afterwards a lot of ’em had black eyes”—here he took a
contemplative pull at his pipe and added, “Strawberries don’t like ’em
any more than we do. Many of the fields were scarcely touched by the
frost, but I know of one family who have come a good many miles and
spent nearly all they had to get here, and up to now they’ve scarcely
done three days’ work, but we in our field have been at work for a
fortnight. I reckon they’ll have a rough time next winter unless they
do well at the hop country, which ain’t very likely, for hop-pickin’,
as you know, ain’t so good pay as fruitin’.

“Shall we see you up there?” he asked, referring to the hop district.

“I hope to get there,” I replied.

“There’s a lot o’ things we ain’t talked over yet,” he rejoined, “and
as my old mother used to say, when folks start talkin’ over the affairs
of Egypt or about Romany jib they should start early in the morning.

“Well, a pleasant journey to you and the best o’ luck,—hope you’ll
get home safe,” was Mr. Beshaley’s parting salutation, accompanied by
a reminder about the second Sunday in September for the hops, “for we
don’t reckon you a mumply gorgio, you ought by rights to ha’ been a

To the echo of this compliment—one of the highest that can be paid to
a gorgio in a Romany camp—I set out on my return home and at no great
distance ran against the Vardomescroes on the way to their tent.

Again was I enjoined by the man to “let us see you again up in the hop
country,” while the old woman chimed in with—

“You will enjoy yourself, I’m sure; just walk about and take photos;
lor’, it’s an easy job if ever there was one, but there, I suppose I
couldn’t do your work and you couldn’t do mine. Some gets bread one
way and some gets it another, don’t ’um? When you come would you mind
bringing another photo of Vena; the other day the rain come down so
hard that the water run in one end of the tent and out o’ the other and
I’m sorry to say it quite spoiled the one you gave us.”

“I shall be glad to let you have another,” I replied, “and will
certainly bring it with me.”

After profusely thanking me the old man added, “And I’ll give you some
mushrooms, you knows well I ain’t one o’ the ungrateful sort, and if
the folks as say we are, had nobody to stand at back of ’em and say a
good word, why they might be different from what they are.

“To say the good word for us sometimes would be little enough to do,
the Almighty knows, but no, they side with money always, it don’t
matter what a man does if he’s got money, he’ll always get helped. But
Rye, look here, do you think such folks can be real happy with all
their money? I don’t. I’ve just read about a man who shot his wife
because she wasn’t true to him, and they had lots o’ money it said, but
to my way o’ thinking, if two folks really love one another, nothing
else matters; you can buy a house, you can buy land, but love ain’t
bought with money. A man may not have a shirt to his back, but when
love ‘brews’ inside him, he’s bound to be happy. My missis and me have
been married now over forty years, and the older we gets the more we
loves one another; God’s in heaven and He knows that’s how it should
be, and my missis has always been true to me; if she hadn’t been, I
love her so as I could kill her,—yes, I could, and then die like a man
and meet her t’other side.

“My daughter Videy, you know, is engaged to ——, and he says he loves
the very shoes she wears. More than once he’s had to fight for her, and
he hasn’t allus come off best, still I admires him for it, for he can’t
abear for anybody to say anything agin her.

“She teases him anyhow, and she’s silly to do so,—I tell her she’ll
get a tatto yeck one o’ these days, but she only laughs and says, ‘O
lumme, there’s plenty o’ young chaps about yet.’ But you can’t put old
heads on young shoulders, can you?”

Awaking, apparently, to the fact that his tongue had been running away
with him, the old fellow added apologetically—

“I’m afraid we’ve kept you a bit, but once we get fairly started
there’s no telling when we are going to stop.

“Good night. Don’t forget the ‘oppin’.”


The fact that nearly all true Romanies have two surnames—one by which
they are known to the gorgio, the other by which all genuine gypsies
know them—will, unless given due consideration, be somewhat puzzling
to those whose knowledge of the gypsies is but slight. Regarded
cursorily, such an arrangement would appear to possess no advantage,
but upon consideration it will be obvious that to a seclusive,
suspicious and suspected people, the ability to converse—not only in
the language of the country in which they dwell, but also—in a tongue
which is practically unknown outside their own race, is likely to
stand them in good stead, more especially if the proper names in the
secret tongue bear no resemblance to their equivalents in the language
of the country; and it cannot be doubted that many a tight corner has
been negotiated, and many a man has escaped punishment,—deserved or
otherwise,—simply because warning or other timely information has
been conveyed in the secret language to those concerned.

The following case in point was related to me by the principal gypsy
actor in the incident:—

A gay mush (policeman) “collared” him on one occasion when he was with
some relatives. Desiring to apprise a certain gypsy family of this
occurrence and to give them information that would put them upon the
alert, and, being in the circumstances obliged to speak openly, he said
in Romany to his brother who was near, all that was necessary for his
purpose, including, of course, the name of the family. This conveyed
nothing to the policeman, who was evidently nonplussed as he said
roughly to his prisoner,—“Now, young man, we don’t want any of your
back slang,” an observation which, instead of impressing his hearers
with his perspicacity as it was evidently intended to do, informed them
that he was utterly ignorant of the Romany tongue, and, not only this,
but that he was not sufficiently astute to keep the knowledge of his
ignorance to himself; had it been possible, however, for the officer
to have heard even the English surname of the family implicated,
his suspicions would have been at once aroused, but he had scarcely
disappeared from the scene when a child was despatched hotfoot with
the message to the camp of the family involved.

In passing, it may be remarked that gypsy children are extraordinarily
cute in business of this nature. When important news has to be carried,
the words “Plastra lesti” addressed to them by their parents make
them scuttle along like hares, and sharp, indeed, will be the eyes
or ears of the rural policeman who either sees or hears anything of
the youngsters until after their message has been delivered, for they
will run barefoot on the inner side of a hedge, lie concealed amongst
herbage, take a short cut here, another there, through a stream, or
anything else if such a course will save time and enable them to get to
their destination quickly and secretly.

To return to the subject of the two names:—

It is worth noting that it is usually the surname only which is
rendered into Romany; for instance, Fezenta Cooper in English will in
the gypsy tongue be Fezenta Vardomescro, Clara Stanley will be Clara
Beshaley, and so on.

The surnames hereunder are among the best known of the principal Romany

Barney, Stanley, Smith, Pidgley, Cooper, Hughes, Wells, Lee, Shaw,
Deighton, Saunders, Lovell, White, Ayres, Loversedge, Rickman, Brazil,
Bull, Churen, Doe, Fenner, Harris, Buckland, Lakey, Lamb, Sherred,
Black, Willett, Taylor, Bosswel, Boswell, Allen, Carew, Corrie, Glover,
Buckley, Bosvil, Loveridge, James.

Scotch surnames:—

Young, Ruthven, Blythe, Fleckie, Gordon, Faa.

Many of the Christian names are very curious, as is evidenced by the
following lists, which might, of course, be greatly extended, but the
names given indicate the widely differing sources drawn upon by the

MALE.—Panuel, Sylvester, Wester, Jobey, Soner, Euri, Jasper, Samson,
Bendigo, Noel, Daniel, Liberty, Freedom, Noah, Nelson, Franny, Rodney,

FEMALE.—Sinfai, Fenella, Shuri, Laura, Ivy, Mona, Fezenta, Videy,
Dōsha, Rhona, Rawnie, Zillah, Leander.

One or two, it may be noted, are of Biblical derivation, for the source
of some others we must go to the gypsies’ land of origin, and so on.
While it is outside the scope of the present work to go deeply into the
origin of names, a few suggestions as to the possible derivation of
one or two may not be uninteresting.

Take, for example, the not altogether unpleasing name of Dōsha; what
does it mean? It seems likely that it is derived from the Romany
word Dusta or Dosta, meaning plenty or enough, or it may have some
connection with Dosh—evil. Again, Rhona very closely resembles the
Hindustani word Ronā, to weep, and it is quite conceivable that it
may have been first bestowed as a name under circumstances which gave
cause for weeping. The name Shuri, too, is almost identical with the
gypsy word churi—knife, and it is possible that knives may have had
something to do with the first use of this name as well as the surname

Doubtless many recognized names, or portions of names among the
gypsies, result from the persistence of nicknames, thus a clumsy
or greedy person may be called baulo (pig), a touchy, irritable
fellow hotchi (hedgehog), such nicknames becoming in course of time
agglomerated with the real names, or in some cases superseding them.

Romany people assert that persons of gentle birth bearing the same
surnames as themselves, obtained those names in the first place from
the gypsies, the possibility that the reverse obtains seeming never to
occur to them.

They may, however, justly accuse the gorgio of appropriating and
putting to pretty general use as cant expressions, several words from
their language; for instance, the gypsy word “chavo” has been altered
to “shaver” and is in common use to designate a child; pal, signifying
brother, mush, man, are frequently used. Turning to a modern dictionary
for the signification of the word “chum” we find it given as “an
intimate friend,—etymology unknown.” Now, as the gypsy word, choom,
signifies a kiss, and the Sanscrit, chumb, has the same meaning and is
perhaps somewhat nearer to our word, it will not be unreasonable to
consider our word “chum” adapted from the Romany, and to be the term
for a friend whom one kisses.

The gypsy is usually proud of the family name, and, far from railing
at Providence for decreeing a gypsy’s lot for him, he invests the part
with a certain dignity, which his dislike of the gorgio helps him to
sustain; in fact, I know of more than one Romany family whose members
consider it derogatory to execute work “to order.” The following
incident very well describes their attitude in this respect:—

A lady, who was aware that I had had intercourse with the gypsies for
many years, came to me in great trouble and explained that she had
ordered a dozen baskets to be made by a gypsy named W—— H——, and
although he knew she urgently needed them for a bazaar he had not
supplied even one of them,—she considered him very foolish to refuse
work which would amount to twelve shillings, but the fact remained that
no baskets had come her way and she had come to me seeking a solution
of the difficulty. I endeavoured to explain the affair without giving
offence, but the actual reason why the man refused to do the work
was, that the lady, who had a somewhat exalted idea of her own social
standing and general importance, had _ordered_ this man—who considered
himself, in some ways at least, her superior—to do the work; she had
undoubtedly given the order with the very best of intentions, but
obviously the gypsy’s insight had shown him that she—the lady—felt
she was abasing herself by holding intercourse with him, the outcast,
and, while giving her credit for some sort of a desire to do good, he
would give relief to his wounded pride by spitting on the ground in her
direction after she had left.

Some little time later, I required two or three of these baskets for
presents, so I looked up this same W—— H—— and asked if he would be
good enough to make a few for me, at the same time telling him he could
make them just when he pleased and bring them along as completed, the
result being that I received several baskets in one week, and later, I
had to tell him to stop or I would have more baskets than friends.

These little incidents,—simple enough in themselves,—throw a good
deal of light on a particular aspect of the relations of Romany and
gorgio. The gypsy has his inherited propensities and aversions, and
traditional usages; as these have remained practically unchanged for
centuries, it is, to say the least of it, unreasonable to expect him
to change suddenly and conform to standards of thought and action set
up by those whom he regards with antipathy. To the law of the land,
he perforce submits, but all attempt to force him into the social or
commercial moulds of modern civilization may be likened to the forcing
of a highly elastic substance into a confined space, it will remain
there only under pressure, the removal of which may result in its
flying out into the face of its would-be moulder.

The gypsy, in common with all other subjects of the realm, has no
choice but to submit to the law of the land, and so long as the
laws which especially affect him are just, this is as it should be;
unfortunately, however, it would appear that the administration of
these laws,—perhaps I should say, the direct application of them to
gypsy life, is in too many cases left to officials who detest the
people, have an exaggerated idea of their office, and who therefore
delight to enforce the letter of the law rather than to grant such
grace as the law would permit, or, at least, such as humanity demands.

One terribly cold day in winter saw me at the camp of some of my gypsy
friends, where I expected to hear the usual sounds of merriment, but on
this occasion, a strange quietness which I did not understand seemed to
be brooding over the place.

“Is there anything wrong?” I asked.

“Yes,” said one. “Mrs. S—— ’s little ‘un’s dyin’; she’s camped just
over there in the lee o’ them bushes,—go over, I’m sure she’ll be glad
to see you.”

[Illustration: WINTER.]

Acting upon the suggestion I went in the direction indicated, feeling,
however, that under the circumstances the Missioner would be of more
service. Having reached the tent, I was invited to enter as it was
“more comfortable inside.”

It is true that under cover of the tent, in which a small fire was
burning, the piercing wind was not quite so biting, but—“more
comfortable!”—just think of it! What an elastic term “comfort” is if
it may be applied to such conditions, while a bedroom in winter with
a thermometer at 45° to 50° Fahrenheit will be described as “horribly
cold and uncomfortable.” Truly, the world is what we make it. Try for a
moment to imagine the scene:—

At the far end of the tent, on a bed composed of dead bracken and old
clothes, lay a little child, her wan but pretty face telling that the
end of the struggle in which she was being worsted was not far off,
and it was only too evident that the little sufferer had made her last
appearance at the camp fire, where she, like many another, had loved
to listen to the old world songs, or to the lively airs coaxed from an
ancient fiddle by her brother, who claimed to be a boshomengro.

As I sat with the parents in the smoky tent it seemed to me impossible
that the child could live through the morrow. But, what of that!
the law could have nothing to do with children dying, peacefully or
otherwise, for had it not decreed that gypsies should be allowed to
encamp only in certain places and only for a very short time before
being required to move on. The next morning a keeper appeared on the
scene, and although the time allowed by law had barely expired, and
the circumstances were explained to him, he peremptorily ordered the
striking of the camp.

There could be no mistake as to his attitude in the matter: “the law
empowered him to make these miserable people move on and he was not
going to be cheated out of a job he would enjoy, not he; what would it
matter if the brat did die, it was only a gypsy kid.”

Although it was the season of sodden earth and stinging rain, the tent
was perforce shifted to be pitched elsewhere, and meanwhile, the little
inmate passed beyond the power and petty tyranny of callous keepers.

And what of the keeper?

For the present we must needs be content with the assurance
that—“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

There are, of course, keepers and keepers, many being very good
fellows, doing their work conscientiously, keeping the golden rule in
sight, and far be it from me to say anything that may be construed as
a disparagement of them _in toto_, but I cannot, with justice to my
gypsy friends, refrain from presenting a faithful word picture of the
original of the incident recorded:—

He is a creature who ostensibly thanks God he is not as other men,
who, by means of carefully displayed sanctimony, artful planning, and
cunning sneak work, manages to retain the good opinion of superiors
in office who do not see, and will not believe in his double-dealing,
although the gypsies, without exception, know beyond question that his
life is a tissue of frauds; and wild game, for which they occasionally
risk their liberty rather than starvation, is constantly being
illicitly taken by him and disposed of wholesale.

It is scarcely possible for the gypsy at his worst to be so despicable
a creature.

The gypsy professes to hate the gorgio and small wonder if he lives
up to his profession; it is, however, refreshing to find he has a
warm corner in his heart for suffering humanity outside his own
race. Some Romany folk, well known to me, who in the way of worldly
goods possess practically nothing, and are at times without common
necessaries, befriended a lad whom they found in rags and in a pitiable
state of hunger and dirt. They fed and cleaned the boy, clothed him
by contributing—one a coat, another an old pair of trousers and so
on, kept him for a time until he was presentable, then did their best
to give him a start in life by procuring work for him. A veritable
fulfilling of the behest to—“Give, hoping for nothing again.”

Even a casual acquaintance with the Romanies will reveal the fact that
in common with their Oriental relatives, gypsy women and girls are
very fond of finery and personal adornment, and many of them may be
found wearing valuable ear-rings, finger rings and other jewellery.
One old writer, I note, roundly condemns this practice among them and
endeavours to substantiate his remarks by quoting the exhortation of
the apostle Peter:—

“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of the
hair, and the wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.”

Let us look at the matter fairly. We may presume the gypsies derive
a certain pleasure in wearing such finery and jewellery as they
can command, and we may safely give them credit for obtaining them
honestly; indeed, most of their articles of jewellery are heirlooms,
and are, of course, valued much beyond their intrinsic worth. Who then
has any right whatever to interfere with their use of these things, or
to dictate whether they should, or should not wear them?

The gypsy also dresses her hair in a particular manner because her
ancestors so dressed theirs, because too she knows perfectly well what
suits her; moreover, she has not the least desire to dress or appear as
a gorgio, and to suggest to a gypsy that she should adopt the ways of
Gentiles in these respects is nothing short of an insult.

True gypsies are a most exclusive race, but there have been numerous
intermarriages with Gentiles, and even at a single fair or other gypsy
gathering a discriminating observer will soon discover almost as many
social grades as in a non-gypsy community, and several degrees of
racial admixture; at the top of the scale, Romanies of interesting
personality, at the bottom, Chorodies, “low, wandering outcasts,”
with little or no gypsy blood in their veins, and whose hair has been
described as reminiscent of the material of which cheap mops are
composed, and whose habits are disgustingly dirty. Unfortunately for
the reputation of the real gypsy, many people who have not thought
it worth while to look into the matter, are unaware that these
differences exist, and consequently class all together as “gypsies.”
The language of the Chorodies is a conglomeration of Romany, bad
English and slang, differing widely from the “gentle Romany” of the
true gypsy.

I have said that gypsies are exclusive,—this is especially noticeable
in the way the Romany tongue is kept secret by them. It is scarcely
ever displayed, although it may be occasionally used in public for
strategic reasons; even a knowledge of it will be denied by them when
interrogated by one who appears inquisitive; it is nevertheless spoken,
little or much by thousands in England to-day.

It is a curious but indisputable fact that among true gypsies as well
as Romany half-breeds, the Oriental characteristics—black hair, dark
eyes, swarthy skin, peculiar cast of features, and lithe body—are
usually much more evident in the women than in the men, in girls than

A good type of English gypsy girl is Dōsha (see Frontispiece), whose
portrait exhibits all these peculiarities most distinctly; the facial
angle, the carriage of the head, even the angle of the body, and, one
might almost say, the “hang” of the clothes, are Oriental.

[Illustration: “DŌSHA.”]

There is, too, something extraordinarily mystical about the eyes,
and no great exercise of the imagination is needed to enable one to
credit their possessor with occult powers. The directness and fixity
of gaze are such as haunt one and render it easy to understand how
for centuries gypsies have been regarded as endowed with strange
gifts. At the present time, such a belief is to a great extent
pooh-poohed,—ostensibly so, at least,—but until we of the West
have arrived at a vastly greater knowledge than we now possess, of
telepathy, hypnotism and allied sciences, it will be well that we
restrain our dogmatism and altogether withhold our sneers in matters
occult. It does not necessarily follow that we should place reliance
on such gypsy arts as fortune telling, neither can it, on the other
hand, be denied that there is in this, and their implied power of
clairvoyance, a fundamental something we do not understand.

The practice of fortune telling is condemned as heathenish, and abuse
is hurled at both the gypsy who pretends to read the future and
the superstitious person who is imposed upon. The lopsidedness of
the public in the matter would be amusing were it not for the very
different way the gypsy has of looking at these things.

I do not for a moment advocate a return to the old order which allowed
swindlers to victimize right and left, but from the gypsy standpoint
it appears to be scarcely playing the “game” for an announcement to
be allowed to appear on the bills of a church bazaar that “a real
gypsy prophetess” or a palmist has been engaged, who will read the
future, etc., at sixpence, half a crown, or what not, per person,
for the benefit of the fund, which results in the improvised tent
or cavern of the gypsy having quite a stream of visitors who “don’t
believe in this sort of thing, but it’s for such a good object, you
know, dear,” and the fund eventually benefits by a substantial amount,
to the gratification of the reverend principal, who may be also a
magistrate and dispenser of justice, and it is quite possible that he
may on the day following feel it to be his duty to assist in putting
down the fortune telling imposture and may send a gypsy to prison
for doing—with a better excuse for it—the self-same thing that he
countenanced, and he will, moreover, probably deliver a homily to Mary
Jane, who had been foolish enough to put silver into the hand of the
gypsy with the hope of learning something of a future that is veiled
from priest and parlourmaid alike.

[Illustration: “DŌSHA.”]

Although fortune telling is now illegal in this country it is still
practised _sub rosa_. Until comparatively recently, however, it was
quite a lucrative profession to adepts, and more than one third-rate
exponent has mournfully confessed to me that in the good old times “we
used to make a tidy bit o’ money dukkerin.”

One of the most celebrated of successful fortune tellers of recent
times was perhaps Lucy Lee, who pursued her profession for something
over twenty-six years. Her business headquarters were at The Devil’s
Dyke, near Brighton. She did not, however, reside there permanently,
but—latterly at least—journeyed to and from Brighton daily in a small
carriage. She probably amassed a considerable sum of money, for in
addition to the numerous people of rank and note she could count among
her clientèle, Devil’s Dyke had annually its thousands of visitors,
of whom a goodly proportion doubtless left silver in the hand of the
soothsayer—in the orthodox manner. Of her oracular pronouncements I
have no personal knowledge. If I recollect aright, she was wearing,
on the last occasion of my seeing her, a cloak of brilliant red edged
with white, a black silk or satin dress, a white apron, and upon her
head a red handkerchief. She maintained that past events in one’s
life as well as the future are mapped out on the hand; she told
fortunes also by means of cards. Gypsies are very keen observers, and
those fortune tellers among them who pretend to something beyond pure
guesswork, undoubtedly find the searching examination of a face quite
as suggestive as a study of the hand; moreover, they do not omit to
gaze intently into the tell-tale eyes of the person seeking information
and are consequently able to make certain deductions upon which to base
their shrewd guesses, and as these may be delivered in ambiguous terms
they are frequently near enough to the facts to impress or satisfy the

Gypsies have ever been prone to make capital out of the artlessness,
culpable weaknesses, and avarice of a section of mankind.


  “Adroit the line of palmistry to trace.”


The confidence trick in a great variety of forms has in the past been
worked by them with considerable success, female domestics being
perhaps their especial victims, but well-to-do people have by no means
escaped their wiles. A trick, having innumerable variants, and which,
in days gone by, had a very long and successful run,—perhaps it is
still going,—was played upon those who believed gypsies to be the
possessors of mystical powers; it consisted in the superstitious dupe
being induced to believe that a sum of money enclosed in a packet and
handed to the gypsy in order that she might for a small sum repeat over
it certain unintelligible words, would become doubled in quantity and
value a certain time after it had been returned to the owner and had
been hidden in accordance with the gypsy’s directions. It is, perhaps,
scarcely necessary to add that the gypsy either gave instructions for
the hiding of the money in some place accessible to herself, or she
acquired it by abstraction or substitution before returning the packet
to the credulous owner, the result in any case being the same,—the
gypsy got the money and was not to be found when the date given for the
consummation of the spell arrived.

Numerous accounts of similar frauds exist, many possibly having some
foundation in fact, while others may be set down as purposely distorted
facts, or as fabrications specially devised for fostering ill-feeling
against the gypsies, or for justifying, as far as possible, the
tyrannical measures taken to exterminate them.

Looking back upon the harsh treatment meted out to the gypsies in
former times, one can imagine the undercurrent of fear which prompted
it, a fear bred of the superstitious beliefs of the times and kept
alive by the outlandish appearance, seclusive habits, strange customs
and secret tongue of the Romanies, items which, even to this day,
are reckoned against them by the ignorant and superstitious. It is
therefore difficult, if not impossible to find unbiassed accounts
either of gypsy crime or petty frauds at almost any period in their

Generally speaking, the term “gypsies” in newspaper reports of police
cases is a misnomer, the persons implicated being mostly Chorodies,
who, with very few exceptions, have no blood-relationship with Romany
people, neither have they much in common beside a similarity in
their mode of life. The disparity is especially noticeable in the
respective women, for Romany women have always been noted for their
handsome features, and in instances where the mother has not the
usual regularity and beauty of feature, her children are frequently
exceedingly pretty; we cannot, however, say so much for the Chorodies,
for, to quote the description of them by a well-known writer,—“their
complexion, when not obscured with grime, is rather fair than dark,
evincing that their origin is low, swinish Saxon, and not gentle
Romany.” Written many years ago, this is true to-day, and it is these
people principally who bring discredit to the gypsy name. Occasionally
among these people I have seen families upon whom the unenviable
epithet of Hinditymengre, or Filthy people, has been bestowed,—these
are Irish vagrants, but, like George Borrow, I fail to see that they
are dirtier than Chorodies generally, indeed I can scarcely imagine
it to be possible. There is really no occasion for such dirty habits,
as they have the same opportunities for their ablutions and equal
facilities for general cleanliness as the Romanies.

Gypsies are ardent lovers of music, and have wonderfully retentive
memories; some among them—notably Hungarians—have attained eminence
as composers, and in our own land one may find really good Romany
performers on the violin, harp, cornet, etc., although from lack of
education gypsy music is more frequently of the country ball or dancing
booth order.

A genius for dancing would appear to be inherited by the Romany chi,
as most of the girls, even the veriest children, revel in it, while
many of the young women are most graceful exponents of the “poetry of
motion” and not only cultivate the art as a source of income, but in
their exuberant health and spirits, seemingly indulge in it from sheer
inability to restrain themselves; certainly some of their dances appear
to be such as only a gypsy, with her physique and temperament, can
accomplish, but in this respect the palm would probably be awarded to
the gypsies of Spain.

Pliant of body and lithe of limb is the gypsy, but it is a grave
mistake—and one which many benevolent people have made—to suppose
that he has no strength of mind, and that he will readily accommodate
himself to forms and conditions of life which are diametrically opposed
to those in which he was nurtured, and which for centuries have
characterized his race.

Self-reliant, resourceful, versatile he is, but his temperament is not
plastic, and attempts to induce gypsies to break away from their mode
of life, to live in houses and to become what may be termed normal
citizens,—although made with the very best of intentions,—have either
failed altogether, or have succeeded only in spoiling a decent gypsy or
two to add to our slum population.

A Londoner loves the sights, smells and sounds of the city,—the open
road, moorland and forest are desolation to him; the Romany chal
stifles amongst houses, suffocates under a roof, the rush and noises
of the city distract him, its smells are as poison, and he turns with
indescribable relief to the forest glade, the open heath,—his very
nature demands them,—they are his breath of life.

“But,” argues our philanthropist, “he would in time become accustomed
to the town or village, and surely it would be for his ultimate good?”

Would it?

I may return to the subject later, meanwhile the following facts,
replying indirectly to the question, are suggestive:—

Those who know practically nothing of the gypsy character are confident
in the possibility of gradually weaning them from the nomadic life,
and of inducing them to settle down to the cottage, and the workaday
existence of the respectable labourer or artisan.

On the other hand:—

Those who have gained intimate knowledge of the race by long and
friendly intercourse with its people, and are consequently able to see
and feel with them and to understand their inbred love of a life of
freedom in touch with Nature, cannot dissociate the idea of sacrilege
from any thought of “improving” out of existence all that to the
gypsy—really counts.

In some parts of the Continent gypsy children go naked for some years,
but in our own country—possibly owing partly to changeability of
climate—clothes are almost invariably worn, but often they are of the
scantiest description. I have seen the children running barefoot in the
snow, their bodies being protected only by one thin garment, but as
they are subjected to such Spartan treatment from infancy, they do not,
apparently, suffer as would house-dwellers under similar conditions.

Much ingenuity is sometimes displayed by the poorer families in
adapting for their own use clothes which have been given to them.

The following incident, the principals in which are well known to me,
is an amusing case in point:—

A gentleman gave a pair of his trousers to a gypsy. A week or so later,
when out walking, he saw a small gypsy boy coming towards him, and
“there seemed,” said he when relating the occurrence to me, “something
very familiar about this boy’s dress, which at first puzzled me
considerably, but afterwards, as the boy came nearer, I saw that he
had made a complete suit from my old trousers; a little had been cut
from the legs, the pockets had been turned inside out and the ends
cut open, so that by getting into the garment and thrusting his arms
through the pockets,—as sleeves,—he secured a sort of combination
suit, trousers and coat in one; he had reduced the opening at the top
by tying pieces of string from button to button, and to complete the
garment and separate what I may perhaps call the blouse part from the
trousers portion, he had tied a piece of cord around his waist.” Now
the boy was small and thin and the gentleman to whom the trousers had
belonged was of somewhat ample proportions, therefore the appearance of
the boy, it is perhaps needless to add, was more ludicrous than can be
well described, reminding one of the account given by Gypsy Smith of
his first pair of trousers, which prompted inquiries as to whether he
was going or coming, at what time the balloon was going up, and so on.

Ingenuity of a different type was shown by a gypsy who desired to
attend the funeral of a relative and made the occasion an excuse
for borrowing from a householder of my acquaintance a pair of black
trousers to wear during the ceremony; his pretext of wishing to borrow
the trousers, and for one day only, showed the diplomat, for he must
have felt sure that if he could but get the trousers the owner would
not trouble him to return them.

Gypsies do not forget acts of kindness to their folk, neither are they
ungrateful, but will often endeavour to make some little return for
sympathetic help extended to them. In connection with this I note as a
curious psychological fact, that they will occasionally pilfer in order
to present the proceeds of the theft to a benefactor, as a tangible
proof of gratitude.

Upon one occasion a young fellow offered me some fine plums in return
for a slight service I had rendered, all the circumstances pointing to
his having stolen the fruit for the purpose on his way to see me.

We may then take it that pilfering from a gorgio is reckoned a venial
offence,—a trifling matter, but failure to show proper appreciation of
services rendered is considered “low down” behaviour and unworthy of a
self-respecting gypsy.

In the field of scientific invention, it seems that the gypsy is
not very likely to become a shining light, but that he nevertheless
possesses considerable ingenuity in certain directions is shown by
his turning to good account apparently useless native material in
the manufacture of useful, ornamental and curious articles, and his
brain is also fairly fertile in the way of dodges that will, now and
again, yield a few pence. One of such dodges—evincing considerable
astuteness, and some little knowledge of domestic economy on the part
of its originator—was brought under my observation by a small gypsy
boy asking if I would not “please buy one?” at the same time opening
the lid of an old chocolate box and exposing to view a number of oddly
shaped, flattish cakes differing slightly in size, each being about
one and a half inches by one inch, and half-inch in thickness, all
being curiously veined or marbled in drabs and browns and emitting a
rather pleasant odour. At first, I was a good deal puzzled as to their
composition, and was not helped much by the information volunteered by
the boy, that they were for “keepin’ the morf away an’ takin’ iney mole
outcher close.” This done into English would read—“keeping the moth
away and removing iron-mould from your clothes.” A brief examination of
the contents of the box enabled me to see through the fraud.

The little cakes had been prepared by breaking off projecting pieces
from the deeply furrowed bark of the cluster pine, these had been
shaved and bevelled with a knife until the pattern formed by the
layers was sufficiently pronounced, and afterwards smoothed with
sandpaper, so that unless one touched them he might easily mistake
them for variegated tablets of soap; a few drops of scent—sprinkled
probably from a penny bottle of synthetic “Eau de Lavande”—had
completed the process of manufacture. I may add that as the boy had not
been furnished with directions for use, he could not state how many
penny pieces would be required to keep the “morf” away from a given
space, nor how long the spell would last; with respect to the “iney
mole,” one would expect an intensification rather than a diminution of
the stain from the use of such an eradicator.

Most of my readers have probably seen, or, may possess, examples of
work in wood or other material which has been built up within globes
or bottles of water, the whole having been passed in and put together
through a comparatively small neck or other aperture.

Such work has at all times been beloved of sailors, but gypsies are
occasionally found who make this class of “ornament.”

Two examples I have seen remind me of another instance of gypsy
shrewdness. A gypsy boy, aged about thirteen, called at my house one
morning with some bottles of water which also contained specimens of
woodwork for sale; these were a sort of emblematical Calvary, each
bottle containing one tall and two shorter crosses, two spears at
back, a hammer and three nails in front, all of which were cut from
wood and were inserted in a cruciform foot also composed of deal, the
three crosses being decorated by the favourite angle-notching that is
reminiscent of a boy’s first pocket-knife.

The sum of sixpence was asked for each bottle with its contents.

I purchased one of them and thought I had seen the last of the lad,
but in the afternoon he appeared with another bottle exactly like
those he had previously brought, excepting that between the two spears
a ladder had been fitted. It was described as a much better one than
those he had brought in the morning, and he added that as I had already
bought one he would let me have it for ninepence. Although I failed to
appreciate the implied favour, I made a second purchase.

It will be noticed that the boy did not bring the better article
first, or he would certainly have sold but one at ninepence instead of
disposing of two for fifteen pence, also that he did not offer terms
for exchanging the inferior for the better article, but sold a second.

The manufacture of just this class of article is not one of the common
occupations of gypsies, and it is possible, as this family came
from the neighbourhood of Cardiff, that the locality, together with
occasional contact with sailors, may have suggested it to them as a
help in their struggle to live.

Another way of turning an “honest” penny, practised occasionally by
both gypsy and tramp, is the making of artificial flowers from turnips.
Turnips may be usually acquired pretty easily, and the competent
artist, by deftly using a pocket knife, converts them into most
attractive and really deceptive imitations of flowers.

I am not sure if the imitation of any particular species is aimed at,
but the kind usually produced may be described as midway between a
white water lily and a rose; these flowers are generally left “plain
turnip,” but I have seen them splashed with crimson, or occasionally
dyed entirely with cochineal or aniline solution.

A flower is usually offered arranged as a button-hole or bouquet, a
twig being inserted as a stem and a few leaves added; those of laurel
and thuja lobbi are favourites as they are always to be “pinched” _en
route_; moreover, the odour of the thuja neutralizes any vegetable-like
smell of the flower.

A large proportion of the articles hawked around by gypsy vans at the
present time are not of gypsy manufacture, as machine-made tinware
and other goods yield a greater profit; individual tent-dwelling
hawkers, however, still carry a fair variety of home-made stuff, such
as clothes-pegs, toys, grass mats and baskets, meat skewers, wire
flower-baskets, etc.

I was recently at a country fair which attracted the usual gypsy
proprietors of shows, stalls and the like, and amongst them I got into
conversation with an old man of sixty to seventy years of age. He was a
man of more than the average intelligence of his class and had at one
time been a travelling photographer.

“Yes,” said he in reply to a question of mine, “I made a good bit of
money photographing at one time, but there isn’t much to be done at it
now, I’ve still got my cameras and lenses and things in the van, but I
never use them.”

“But things are slack in the pleasure line during all the winter
months, aren’t they?” I inquired.

“Yes,” he replied, “it’s as much as most of us do in the summer to
make enough to carry us through, but d’ye know,” he continued in a
confidential manner, “there’s a good living to be got, and could be
got by a lot of our people if they’d only go into it. I’m too old
to start afresh now, but any man with a livin’ wagon, as could work
at tinkering, furniture repairing and china riveting, do a bit of
photography when it came along, and wouldn’t turn up his nose at stray
odd jobs such as putting in window-sash lines, seeing to paraffin
lamps and the like, and travelled around the out-of-the-way places,
what you’d call remote districts, would make sure of a good living all
the year round. Mind you, it would be a hard life,—it couldn’t be
much harder than some of us have at this game,—but it would pay, and
there’s many a gypsy with ability to do it—only he don’t.”

In the early days of photography the arrival of the Photographic Van,
otherwise “Saloon,” for its periodical stay in the village or town, was
eagerly awaited as the only opportunity to have a “likeness taken” for,
perhaps, months. In some of the home counties certainly, and in others
possibly, the only professional portrait photographers doing work at
popular prices were, at one time, the Romany operator-proprietors of
these travelling portrait saloons, and most excellent work was turned
out too. I have in my possession family portraits taken upwards of half
a century ago by these gypsy artists, which would put to shame similar
work but ten years old.

One of these, taken in 1858 on glass, blacked at the back, framed in
what is known as a “mat and preserver,” fitted into the well-known
plush-lined wood case, is in a condition as absolutely fresh and
perfect as on the day it was taken, and was the work of a typical
Tachey Romany, a man of fine physique and handsome features, who
travelled Hertfordshire and adjoining counties.

Another Romany production is a portrait taken in 1864 by a man
travelling Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, etc. It is a carte de visite
portrait on the old albumenized paper, and is first-rate work, its rich
purple tones being as fresh and strong as when just finished.

Doubtless, there are to-day many treasured portraits—all there is
left to recall the features of loved ones—which are the work of
gypsy artists who travelled the country at the time when photography
was still young and few other opportunities existed of obtaining
photographic portraits.


Beyond an allusion now and again, I have not hitherto had occasion to
say anything of gypsy jewellery or personal adornment, but as these
subjects have an intimate connection with the Romany life and are in
many respects notably characteristic of the people, they demand more
than passing mention.

Gypsies undoubtedly inherit from their Oriental forbears a love of
jewellery, brilliantly coloured fabrics, and the use of ornaments of
various kinds for the adornment of their persons, and, in common with
Orientals generally, they not only have this predilection but possess
the ability to use these things in the most artistic fashion,—perhaps
it would not be wrong to call it instinct, for they appear to be
as incapable of doing otherwise as they are of moving or posing

Ear-rings, beads, and the hair are the three things that will leave
the most lasting impression on the memory after a casual meeting with
Romany women and girls.

Ear-rings are very generally worn and as a study are quite
interesting,—many being very old, having been handed down from one
generation to another, others are quaint in design, curiously massive,
or otherwise striking in appearance.

I was once engaged in conversation with a Romany woman who was wearing
rather curious large gold ear-rings, and upon my remarking that they
appeared to be of good workmanship, she obligingly removed them from
her ears and placed them in my hand in order that I might examine them
more closely and estimate their weight. There could be no doubt they
were, as she suggested, old Indian work.

By far the greater number are of crescentic design, consisting of
either a single crescent or a combination of crescents. I have not
been able to discover a reason for the partiality to this design, but
as gypsies regard many things as “lucky” and others as “unlucky” it
is probable that this form has acquired among them the reputation of
being lucky. Some early Egyptian ear-rings were of this form, and the
crescent is also used as a religious symbol, but the real origin of
its use is obscure; the following account is, however, ingenious and
interesting if not accurate. We read that:—

“This device of the Ottoman Empire (the crescent) is of great
antiquity, as appears from several medals, and took its rise from an
event related by Stephanus the Geographer, a native of Byzantium. He
tells us that Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, meeting with
mighty difficulties in the siege of that city, set the workmen on a
very dark night to undermine the walls, that his troops might enter the
place without being perceived; but, luckily for the besieged, the moon
appearing discovered the design, which accordingly miscarried.

“In acknowledgment of this deliverance,” he says, “the Byzantines
erected a statue to Diana, and thus the crescent became their symbol.”

The following interesting reference to ear-piercing is to be found in
Exodus XXI. 5, 6:—

“And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and
my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him
unto the judges; and shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door
post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he
shall serve him for ever.”

Under these circumstances the boring of the ear evidently indicated
servitude, and it has been suggested the inserting of rings was
intended to prevent the holes closing, so that their value as a visible
sign of bondage should be permanent; a state of affairs certainly not
implied by the ear-ring habit of the present-day gypsy.

In a previous chapter reference was made to the persecution of the
gypsies by Henry VIII, and we find that his laws affecting dress, made
in 1532, were not of a nature to render life more endurable by people
of their proclivities.

“Jewellery of every kind was forbidden below a certain degree, while
the common people were not to wear even a silver button or any kind of
ornament except a badge of service.” However, all laws regulating dress
were repealed by statute in the first year of the reign of James I.

In Eastern countries much larger ear-rings are worn than is customary
among ourselves, but even in this country—although a variety of
comparatively small patterns, from the plain circle of gold wire to
elaborate silver or gold drops, are in favour—very large ones may
sometimes be seen in the ears of Romany women. Next to the plain
circle in the scale of ornament is the simple crescent (Fig. 1) or
a small plain drop, then ear-rings which are a combination of two
or more crescents (Fig. 2), or of crescents and different drops,
various composite designs, and lastly the very long, and more or less
elaborate, pendulous drop patterns, many of these latter being much
more striking in appearance than elaborate in design. The largest
ear-rings I have yet seen were being worn by an olive-complexioned
Romany woman; they were of silver, and consisted mainly of long,
angular drops, between three and four inches in length, which were, of
course, hollow, the only attempt at ornamentation being a sunk panel
in each of the faces (Fig. 3); so long were they that they swung only
comfortably clear of the woman’s shoulders, her fine features, dark
complexion and black hair, with these outlandish silver ornaments
presenting a _tout ensemble_ at once striking and artistic.

[Illustration: JEWELLERY.]

Many of the little girls wear ear-rings, mostly of silver but
occasionally of gold; the design illustrated at Fig. 4 is a favourite
with both adults and children; the originals of the illustration,
however, were of gold, worn by a child. Fig. 5 consisted of a
diamond-cut stone supporting an amber drop of rather quaint
appearance, but whether of Oriental or Birmingham workmanship I cannot
say; that illustrated by Fig. 6 was composed of malachite and silver.

The remaining illustrations will speak for themselves, perhaps,
excepting Fig. 7, which were unquestionably valuable and were
beautifully made of burnished and matte yellow gold.

Nearly all the females—whether of tender years or adult—wear
necklaces of some description, their fondness for beads amounting
almost to a passion; but with beads, as in other gypsy matters, there
appears to be a sort of vogue or preference for certain shapes and
colours. Very frequently, but not invariably, the beads worn are black
or red—two “lucky” colours, by the way. The shape most favoured is
perhaps that of a cowrie (Fig. 8), approximately, and there appears to
be ground for supposing that at one time cowries may have been used
in this manner, giving place eventually to coral or stones turned to
roughly imitate them. The beads used differ much in size, varying from
one-eighth of an inch in length and of like diameter, to an inch or
more in length by three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

Were it possible to trace these strings of beads through all their
vicissitudes of time and place not a few, it would be discovered, have
emanated within the last twenty or thirty years from that birthplace of
so much “genuine” Hindu, Egyptian and similar work, a place known to
gypsies as Kaulo gav (Black town), otherwise Birmingham, while others
would be found to have been religiously cared for and passed on by
generation after generation of the same family almost from the time of
their shaping in the Far East; indeed, after carefully examining some
of these old beads, but little imagination is needed to present to
the mind’s eye a Hindu squatting at his primitive lathe, turning and
shaping coral, stone or wood into just such beads.

Occasionally, the beads of a necklace are nicely graduated or otherwise
regularly varied in size; again, they may be seen having no order or
arrangement, as though composed of portions of several necklaces. The
only rule I have been able to discover concerning the number of strings
or rows of beads one wears is, that each one wears all she has,—if
enough for one string only, it suffices; if she be fortunate enough to
possess sufficient for three, four or six rows, then she wears all of
them, but two or three rows are more usual.

Gypsy women have distinct and artistic styles of dressing the hair, of
which they mostly have an abundance, and I have known more than one
Romany chal who was proud of his glossy, black ringlets, but nowadays
one would probably have some difficulty in finding such. Some of the
men adopt the fringe style for their front locks, others cultivate the
“curl” of the rural labourer, but quite frequently young men and lads
have the hair closely cropped,—“it’s cleaner in the warm weather,”
said one to me; “my missis allus cuts mine, she’s done it ever since
we’ve been married, with the horse-clippers.”

“No I haven’t,” interpolated the wife; “I’ve done it with the small

“Well,” he retorted, “they are almost the same.”

In a gypsy encampment there is generally one of the men who is handy
with scissors and razor; naturally his services are preferred by the
community to those of the professional barber. Sunday is the day when
the tonsorial artist of the camp is busy, and for fairly obvious
reasons,—in the first place, he is not at work,—that is to say, he is
not pursuing his ordinary vocation; secondly, Sunday generally finds
almost every one at the vans or tents.

Perhaps no more ridiculous statements have ever been made than those
relating to the habits of gypsies; one such informs its readers that
gypsies darken their hair to black by the “subtle use of certaine
herbes,” but omits to state why gypsy women—whose hair is naturally as
black and lustrous as possible—should desire, or endeavour to darken
it by the application of absurd preparations.

The women are proud of their hair, and spend considerable time in
attending to it. I once asked one of them how she managed to keep her
hair in such perfect condition.

“If you are not in a hurry to go, I’ll show you,” she replied.

A child was forthwith despatched with a bucket to an adjacent spring
for water; meanwhile the woman loosed her hair from its many tiny
plaits, and, as she sat upon the ground, it fell around her like a
black cascade, and was of such length that it lay upon the ground;
she proceeded next to wet the hair thoroughly by the simple method of
holding her head over the pail and plying the brush which was now and
again plunged into the water.


After partly drying her hair by means of a towel, she allowed the
breeze to play through it; grease was now rubbed well into it and
as much as possible afterwards removed by brushing, etc. Any grease is
used for this purpose, but in this instance I saw ordinary dripping
applied, not the “fat of hedgehogs,” stated by writers to be so
excellent and to be the grease used by the gypsies.

This brings us to the business of plaiting, and I must confess that
this part of the procedure was a revelation to me by reason of the
rapidity with which it was executed, reminding me of some gypsy girls
whom I once saw plaiting straw basket-work; there was no secrecy or
dodging about it, their fingers moved and the work grew, but the
movements were so rapid that the process could not be followed. She
made five plaits which began near each ear and met behind the head in
a series of “door knockers,” to say nothing of several smaller ones;
having done this she announced her intention of facing my camera; I
would have much preferred her facing me—to use an Irishism—with
the back of her head, to enable me to give the reader a better idea
of those wonderful plaits than is possible by the pen of a mere
man; on Plate 15, however, will be found photographs of styles of
hair-dressing, all of which were taken from members of the Romany, or,
as some prefer to call themselves, the travelling fraternity.

An article of dress which must not be overlooked is the neckerchief.
It is used by both men and women and combines the functions of use
and adornment; sometimes they are of silk of brilliant colouring,
more often, however, they are composed of less costly material but
are not less dazzling in colour, for in the matter of neckerchiefs
and handkerchiefs the gypsy usually allows his love for colour full
play, and it should occasion no surprise if he blossom out on Sundays
in all the glory of a vivid scarlet or yellow neckerchief, which is
relieved or ornamented, as the case may be, with spots of a contrasting
colour or white as large as a shilling, but it is only just to say
that most of the neckerchiefs worn by them are less terrible in their

[Illustration: A “ROMANCHAL”]

The silk handkerchief is occasionally worn as a shawl by the
women-folk, and, in event of the sun’s rays becoming uncomfortably hot,
it is wrapped around the head in a style not inappropriately called
by them an “Italian cap.” I was once arranging to photograph a Romany
girl, when her companion, who happened to be a very-much-alive
gypsy, appropriated my velvet focussing cloth and forthwith made for
herself therewith an Italian cap. I have ever since regretted I did
not manage without the cloth and photograph her and the impromptu

Some of the girls and younger women have a pretty habit of wearing
flowers in the hair,—small sprays of foliage being used when flowers
are not obtainable,—thereby reminding one of a similar custom of the
natives of Tahiti, who, however, go a step further and wear a flower
inserted in a small hole in each ear in addition to those in the hair.

It is a noteworthy fact that whenever Romany women purchase jewellery,
articles of distinctly Oriental design, or having an Oriental or quaint
appearance, are almost invariably selected.

Brooches, which are fine examples of cameo sculpture, are occasionally
seen being worn by them, and as these are mostly Italian productions
they may have been procured during a sojourn in that country; but it is
more likely they have been purchased in England, as they were at one
time in great demand and many thousands were imported.

Certain features of the gypsy dress remind one of that of the coster,
the large hat with its “fevver” being the heart’s desire of gypsy
Fenella and coster ’Arriet alike; with regard, however, to the dress of
the male gypsy, little need be said, but that the coster delights more
in display than does our present-day gypsy; even the gypsy of a few
years since, in his full array of silver buttons, was dressed modestly
in comparison with the barbaric pearly rig-out of the coster. In the
way of head-gear, the Romany chal usually prefers a cloth cap or a
slouch hat, albeit a large, high-crowned straw hat may be occasionally
found among horse-dealers and children. Among Romany folk, then, love
of finery and display would appear to be the exclusive privilege of the
female gypsy. I have seen silver umbrella handles mounted and worn by
them as brooches, half-crowns as brooches to keep an apron string in
place, bones which are considered lucky mounted in silver and worn on
the breast, and so on. One of the first questions one asks of another
when inspecting jewellery is—“Is it silver?”

[Illustration: ITALIAN CAP.]

As many of these people can neither read nor write, it will be obvious
that most of their accounts are settled otherwise than by cheque: the
gypsy may, in truth, be called a ready-money concern. Not many years
since, members of a certain tribe who were horse-dealers might have
been seen at horse fairs and the like, and although any one of them
knew well how to drive a hard bargain, he did not pay with a worthless
cheque, but produced a purse, apparently made from an old stocking,
and from its contents of a hundred or a hundred and fifty pounds, paid
for his purchases on the spot, in sterling gold. It is, of course,
possible that with the advance of civilization gypsies have now grasped
the possibilities of the credit system, and that perchance some may
be found who know how to pay their debts with flash notes or cheques
that will not be honoured; but so far as my observation goes, the good
old-fashioned style of coin on the spot is adhered to.

The women usually carry their money on their persons, the coins being
tied up in a piece of fabric to which a string is affixed; this they
tie around the neck, the money being suspended a few inches below
the chin underneath the dress; the key of the caravan is sometimes
similarly suspended.

In the method of carrying their children, the women remind one of the
Kaffirs and other races who carry their babes upon the hip.

The gypsy generally uses a broad, endless strip of carpet or similarly
strong fabric which is passed over one shoulder,—usually the
right,—making a kind of pocket for the baby, which rests against the
left hip and receives additional support from the left arm; thus the
right arm is free to carry a basket or to be used in other ways.

It is no light task for a woman,—this carrying, many miles in the day,
of a heavy child on the one hand, and a large basket full of various
articles on the other,—and yet it is done by many of the gypsy women,
day in, day out, and seldom, indeed, is there any real expression or
manifestation of distress other than the mute appeal of a melancholy

When gypsy children are old enough to sit erect, they are frequently
carried sitting astride the hip of the mother, who keeps them in
position and gives support with one arm, precisely in the manner of the
Kaffir women.

[Illustration: “MAIDEN MEDITATION.”]

Photography enables us—as nothing else can—to secure truthful and
permanent records of the features and fleeting expressions of our
fellow-creatures—not the least pleasing among such photographs being
pictures of happy childhood. The first time I saw the original of one
of my favourite pictures—the roguish, happy-looking little Romany
girl of the Illustration, page 128—she was playing in a green lane
with a number of youngsters, several of whom were not unlike her, while
others were of a quite degenerate type; one or two of them, indeed,
tried to rifle my pockets while others engaged my attention; it is,
however, but fair to the children to say that this was done at the
instigation of the adults, who had called out from the tent on the
other side of the hedge—

“Chiv tuti’s vast adrey the Rye’s putsi.”

My reply—“Mande jinned what you penned”—appeared to surprise them.

“So you did, did you?” queried one of the women, and thereupon she
looked as it were beyond me, assuming an expression only to be
described by an editor’s usual notice to quarrelsome correspondents:—

“This discussion must now close.”

Later in the day, when we had become better acquainted, this merry
youngster, who had kept aloof while the others were intent on my
pockets, came to me, and, slipping her hand into mine, said—

“My name’s ——, you like me the best.”

I confessed that I did.

Cretinism—according to one writer—is prevalent among gypsies. I am
inclined to think that if this statement be based on statistics, they
referred to Chorodies rather than to true gypsies, or at least that
Chorodies and Romanies were not differentiated when the statistics were
collected. I have lived and wandered among the gypsies of our southern
counties for many years, and have yet to find sufficient evidence
of cretinism to warrant a statement that it is prevalent. These
observations refer to the dark-complexioned, true Romany people and the
posh ta posh folk—as the gypsy calls the Romany half-breeds—and not
to the Chorodies, who, apart from their wandering habits, have very
little in common with true gypsies.

Amongst all peoples, examples of deformed humanity are occasionally
brought into the world; but the proportion of such among true gypsies
would appear to be small, and while Romany folk are notably quick,
keen-witted and brainy, I have not observed—even among the very
small proportion of deformed—that the idiocy, goitre, or other
characteristic features of cretinism exist to any marked degree.


Formerly, it was a rigid Romany law that no gypsy should marry outside
the race, therefore imaginative writers with little or no inner
knowledge of the people, have jumped to the conclusion that gypsies
must of necessity suffer from consanguineous marriage. It is true that
Romany cousins occasionally contract marriage, but it must be borne
in mind that this marriage of cousins occurs to a much greater extent
among the rest of our population, and a knowledge of the subject
generally forces on one the opinion that consanguineous marriages are
not proportionately more frequent among gypsies than English people in

It is quite natural that a gypsy should prefer as a partner for life
one of his own race, and as it has been estimated that there are some
twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand gypsies in this country, and it
is a fact that the greater number of gypsies do not marry those related
to them, even distantly, one can but characterize any disparagement
of the gypsy in this direction as an unchristian endeavour to incite
public feeling against him.

Referring to the custom of gypsies marrying only those of their own
race, matters are not quite as they were formerly, although in some
tribes still the marrying of a Gentile by one of its members is
sufficient to deprive the offender of all intimate intercourse with
the remainder of the family, but in this respect, the possession by
the interloper of a liberal share of this world’s goods may make much
difference, for a wealthy Gentile is not always so heartily despised
by the Romanies as they would have one believe; in bygone times even
members of the peerage have led to the altar dusky brides from the
gypsy tent.

The complexion of different tribes of gypsies varies very much,—from a
light olive to a decided walnut brown. I know one family of which all
the members are “almost black” in the popular sense of the term. I have
been informed that “the last of the real old black gypsies” was buried
at a family burial-place called Mousehold, near Norwich, many years
since. If, however, the individual then laid to rest was of darker
complexion than the members of several families of my acquaintance,
then he or she was undoubtedly “some black,” as our American friends
would have it.

Of the “black” gypsies to whom I have referred, one of the families can
boast of having had, not many years since, two of their number who bore
the titles of Gypsy King and Queen. Unfortunately, the appellations
yielded no emolument, and it is to be feared if the King had been
caught using a rabbit net, the magistrate would have had so little
respect for the title that he would have imposed on his majesty the
same sentence as on a common poacher.

[Illustration: CARRYING CHILD ON HIP.]

I have a very distinct recollection of my first meeting with this
family, for I was accompanied by a friend who, upon catching sight of
them at their camp, remarked: “They are a black lot anyway, you should
try and persuade them to sit for a photograph.”

“Suppose,” said I, “you air your diplomacy and see what you can do,
meanwhile I’ll wait here.”

Nothing loth, he proceeded to the camp and explained that his friend
would like to photograph the family, with the following result:—

“No, we ain’t ready,—come next week if you like,—we ain’t goin’ to be
took to-day.”

Returning to me, my friend reported: “It’s no go, they won’t let you do
it, but perhaps you may be able to persuade them.”

Armed with my hand camera and the politest Romany I could muster I
advanced to the attack. Before many minutes had elapsed, my comrade
sauntered up and was surprised to find me preparing to photograph them,
the “open sesame” to their hearts having been,—not backsheesh,—but,
as the reader will have already surmised, the gentle Romany tongue.
My companion, who knew nothing of the language, would not have gained
their consent had he argued until nightfall.

The woman put one or two artful questions to me, such as would cause a
beginner at the language to stumble, but, fortunately, I saw through
the stratagem and passed my exam, with honours.

I exposed a couple of plates on the group, after which the woman came
to me and said:

“We had the preachers here just before you came up, but they don’t
understand gypsy talk, so we’d like you to give us the Lord’s Prayer
in Romany. If you will, I’ll call the children from the other camp;
there’s a dozen of us altogether, but only two as can read.”

Of course I consented, and after the occupants of the adjacent tent
had joined the group, all stood silent and attentive while I repeated
the words, which, to the ordinary English ear, sound so strange. At
the concluding words—Si covar ajaw—the woman said “Paracrow tuti” (I
thank you).

[Illustration: “YOU LIKE ME THE BEST.”]

Oftentimes since have I thought of this incident, and it has occurred
to me that Christian workers among these people are often obliged to
confess that after years of wearying labour, little or no evident
progress has attended their efforts, but there is here some indication
that the good seed implanted may not always die, but may lie dormant
awaiting the conditions that will favour its development.

Possibly some cynic may accuse these gypsies of hypocrisy,—of
simulating a desire he considers foreign to their nature in order to
beg successfully afterwards. I am afraid such an accusation would not
be unjust to many of the Chorodies, but the great majority of gypsies
would consider such action beneath them.

As I have had no connection with any religious body working among
gypsies, but have mingled with them, helped with their work, lived
and wandered amongst them because I like the people, and as they have
always treated me with kindness, literally as one of themselves, I
have probably had opportunities of estimating results that are denied
the workers themselves, and I consider the incident just related to
be typical of the attitude of the gypsies, that is to say, they are
not altogether indifferent, but, above all else, Romany folk desire to
preserve their own language, and all other things being equal, it would
seem that the man who will be the greatest power in getting gypsies to
turn to the light, will be one who has an intimate knowledge of them
and will talk and reason with them in their own language.

It is to be feared, however, that in some minds the unworthy feeling
exists that it would savour of paganism, or at the least be irreligious
to pray in a gypsy tongue. Surely it is time our views were broadened a

I have seen gypsies playing pitch and toss, and have many times looked
on at their games with cards, which are usually played solely for the
pleasure they afford, counters in the form of buttons or stones being
used instead of money. The gypsy—wicked as he is said to be—does not
lose many pounds nightly at bridge, roulette or at the casino.


From time out of mind to the present day, country fairs have been
noteworthy resorts of gypsies of high or low estate. In this
connection—without even a passing thought of disparaging Romany
folk—one is irresistibly reminded of the passage:—

Wheresoever the body is, “thither will the eagles be gathered together.”

For fairs seem to possess a certain fascination for gypsies apart from
their recognition of such institutions as opportunities for doing
business. Horse-dealing is a line of business that is frequently
adopted by those who have the necessary capital, and so well qualified
are they as judges of horseflesh, and so expert do they become in the
art of presenting an animal to a prospective purchaser so that it
appears to possess all the points he desires, that “cute as a gypsy
horse-dealer” might well become a standard aphorism.

Stalls and side shows in the hands of Romany proprietors who need no
instruction in their particular style of oratory, and various forms
of amusement are also offered by the “people of Egypt,” most of whose
dusky daughters are adepts in the wiles that effect the transfer of
coin of the realm.

At most gatherings of this nature will be found good Romany types,
half-breeds and nondescripts, and it is a fact worthy of noting that
usually one hears the best and fullest Romany spoken by the best types
of the race, while the language of the half-and-half and mongrels is
not infrequently fearful jargon combining Romany jib of a sort, slang
and profanity, mixed in different proportions by different individuals,
and used with scant regard to either grammar or propriety.

Perhaps one would not be surprised at this if the conditions under
which their early life is passed be taken into consideration, for the
low, nondescript wanderers—from whom the Romanies for the most part
keep aloof—constitute an appreciable proportion of the entertainers
at most fairs and the like, and provide a school for the apt pupils of
the rising generation, in which they graduate in most of the unholy
attainments of the class.

However, fairs change as does all else in a changing world. I recall
a visit I paid to a fair in north Hertfordshire years ago, and a
brief description of some of the units in its composition will be
interesting in comparison with those of to-day. In this particular
instance Romany folk were well represented, the women at the stalls and
shooting galleries being as usual dressed in black; in their ears were
gold earrings, and nearly all wore black hats having ostrich feather
adornments. At one stall, presided over by a voluble “Egyptian,” was
a large brass arrow pivoted at the centre, like the needle of a large
compass; around this was ranged a tempting display of rock,—that
sweetstuff beloved of the juvenile who could even eat it after he had
“peeked” at the process of manufacture behind the van,—and this was
disposed in such a manner that no matter in what direction the arrow
pointed when it came to rest after being set spinning by the expectant
youngster, the proprietress was always able to see that it pointed to a
small piece of rock, so that the speculator received about the value of
a farthing in return for his penny; but let us entertain the charitable
supposition that this was done to create disgust for games of chance
and suppress an incipient taste for gambling. “Yes, my dear,” I can
imagine I now hear her saying, “it’s quite fair, we never cheat,—now,
young man, have another try.”

Nowadays, these polished brass arrows are seldom or never seen on the
stalls of sweet-stuff, for the law has looked into the matter.

At another part of the fair one might hear inspiriting music being
ground out of a wheezy old organ by a one-legged performer, while
hard by was a stall where small bundles of out-of-date magazines were
offered at a penny or twopence the parcel. Somewhat in the rear of this
stall stood a cheapjack who now and again essayed to revive the public
curiosity by playing a concertina, banging a tea-tray or smashing a
few plates. Further on was a man standing upon an upturned box, who
was trying to persuade his small circle of hearers to believe that
the only straightforward way of getting to heaven was by following
the directions given in a little book,—a few copies of which he had
considerately brought with him—for sale. Passing between the lines of
sweetmeat, gingerbread and toy stalls, presided over principally by
swarthy, black-haired women, a number of trifles, such as one would
look for in vain to-day, might be seen; but the item which might now be
considered as most distinctly marking a different age, was the small
bundles of toy whips selling at one penny each, every whip containing
enough real gutta-percha to make a golf ball and having a wooden
whistle at the handle end.

Next came two women attired as Sisters of Mercy at a tiny stall,
selling embroidered work for the benefit of some convent; prominent
among their goods were men’s braces of such gorgeous colouring as would
make a naked savage yearn for trousers in order that braces of such
splendour might be adequately displayed.

Hard by was a thimble-rigger and exponent of the purse trick, but he
too has been prohibited by law to pursue his unselfish profession, and
probably the gentleman who stood at a stall close to him has ere this
been obliged by statute to divert to some other channel his labours for
the public good.

Along the shelf just above the man’s head were arranged glass jars of
specimens in spirit. These were labelled in Latin, in order to impress
the more the rustics, who were his best customers. The specimens,
purporting to be of human origin, were in reality portions of domestic
animals, carefully selected with a view to the particular organism
simulated, all of which were described as having been extracted from
human patients by means of the wonderful medicines offered by the
proprietor, whose magnanimity—judging from his own statements—was
phenomenal. One of the specimens of which I have a very distinct
recollection, was stated to be an extraordinary tapeworm from a
client, while it was actually the bleached intestine of a common fowl.
Nevertheless this man did a roaring trade, a tribute to his “gift of
the gab.”

Now and again would be heard the raucous voice of a
disreputable-looking man who perambulated the fair, announcing that
the “last dying speech and confession” of a malefactor, executed on
the previous day at the county gaol, could be bought for one penny.
Luckily, opportunities of this nature no longer occur. Gone, too, is
the obliging individual who was so anxious to allow everyone to “prick
the garter”; a short description of the procedure may therefore prove

Firstly, the exponent produced a very long, narrow leather strap;
this he doubled so as to form a loop end; he then set it upon edge on
the ground and rolled up the remainder of the strap around it, making
several other loops as he proceeded; then he invited bystanders to
prick with a long metal pin which he provided the loop considered to
be the doubling of the strap. A necessary condition was that the garter
pricker put down any sum he pleased, and in event of the pin remaining
caught in the loop when the strap was unwound by the demonstrator,
he doubled the amount laid down, the total sum becoming the property
of the garter pricker; on the other hand, if the strap came away
entirely from the pin, then the amount staked passed over to the strap
manipulator, who could work the trick so as to win or lose at will.

The period of which I write was that of the old “roundabouts.” Prior
to the development of galloping powers by the wooden horses and the
use of electric light, the naphtha lamps which illuminated the fair
at night frequently blew out and they then added powerfully to the
characteristic smell of the fair.

Such then is the kind of school in which many of the wanderers, whose
parents obtain a livelihood at fairs, learn their early lessons;
but to the credit of the Romanies it must be said that, as a rule,
they have not taken part in such distinctly swindling concerns as
thimble-rigging, purse trick and the like, these ventures being mostly
conducted by the cockney element which finds its way to all large
fairs; in fact, the only Romany concern which partook of this nature
I can recollect, was the brass arrow on the stall of the woman who
dispensed the celebrated “fair rock.”

Notwithstanding the innumerable inducements to adopt the ways of the
gorgio house-dweller, tradesman, mechanic, sharper or swindler, the
traditional life of the Romany has been proof against them; pricking
the garter and thimble-rigging are of the past, the purse trickster
and others of that ilk have had their day; but the same Romany types
will be still found attending the same fairs, gaining a livelihood in
practically the same manner as fifty years ago. They boast that their
people will never die out,—an assertion that can, of course, be proved
by time alone,—but it is certain that various writers, during the last
hundred years, have spoken of them as a fast disappearing race, and
have stated that they would become merged in, or absorbed by, the main
population; it is to be feared, however, that those who could write in
this strain, had not closely studied the people, for, as a matter of
fact, there is scarcely greater reason to expect the Romanies to become
extinct as a people, than that the Jews should lose their racial
characteristics, while unbiassed investigation of the matter would seem
to urge the opinion that the type will persist.

In this respect the gypsy must not for a moment be likened to the
aboriginal Australian, or to the Red man, for while they are gradually
but not the less surely being extinguished by the vices they have
adopted from the white man, the gypsy adapts himself to circumstances
to a certain extent but keeps more or less aloof from the “Gentile” and
is in little danger of becoming so civilized—if we may so term it—as
to lose in any degree his hold upon, or fidelity to, gypsydom, and down
to the present time he has falsified predictions by declining to die

Most of the present-day fairs bring together a good sprinkling of the
“people of Egypt,” as the gypsies at one time called themselves, and
I have often met in my own locality some whom I have seen at similar
gatherings in other parts of the country. At one anniversary of the
local fair when a goodly number of my gorgio acquaintances happened to
be present, a Romany girl espied me as I sauntered along between the
stalls, and said as she slipped her arm through mine—

“Come along with me, my Rye; I’ll show you something to photo,” and
to the evident astonishment of those of my friends whose conduct was
regulated by Mrs. Grundy, I was escorted just out of the fair to where
an old woman was seated beside a ditch.

“There!” exclaimed my dusky guide, “she’ll make a good photo; she ain’t
long for this world, so you’d better get one now.”

Writing of fairs reminds me of an occasion when I looked up some
Romany acquaintances on the evening preceding a fair. There was every
prospect of a large gathering on the morrow, and quite a number of
gypsy families were on the ground. Work was finished for the day and
it was nearly dark as we sat around the fire. As we chatted mainly
in Romany, the youngsters—who had not yet been disposed of for the
night—evidently considered that their elders should not monopolize the
conversation and therefore kept up a running fire of questions, partly
with the hope that they might catch me tripping:—

“What’s a bokkra?”

“What are chokkars?”

“What’s tuv?”

“He dunno what mullo mas is, I sh’ think.”

“Do you know what a juggal is, my Rye?”

[Illustration: AROUND THE CAMP FIRE.]

“I say, what’s a gav mush?”

“Tell us what a baulo is.”

“You don’t know what a hotchi is, do you?”

And so on until one of the women was obliged to quiet them in order
that she might be heard.

“Lor’,” said she, “I could do with a hotchi (hedgehog) to-night,
couldn’t you, Rye? But p’r’aps you ain’t never tasted one.”

Here, a merry, laughing girl with a mischievous twinkle in her eye
interposed, saying:—

“Let me tell you how to cook ’em.

” ... first of all you pull off all the prickles one at a time with the

“Don’t you take no notice o’ her,” broke in her sister; “she’s
a-gettin’ at you; we don’t do nothin’ o’ the sort, we allus takes ’em
to the nearest barber’s and gets ’em shaved.”

Good-natured banter of this description constituted a fair proportion
of the talk that evening, although now and again conversation would
take a more serious turn. Meanwhile, one of the little ones had fallen
asleep in his mother’s arms, and she now proceeded to put him to bed;
however, he awoke during the process and as I stood at the caravan door
he suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, called out to me, “Goo’ night,
mush,” then as suddenly snuggled down to sleep.

When the woman returned to the fireside, she showed me a Bible, which,
she told me, she had carried about in the van for over twenty years,
but could not read a word of it. She also produced a book entitled “The
Traveller’s Guide,” a work issued by a colportage association; this
was, of course, equally useless to her unless some one could be found
who would read to her.

“If anybody starts readin’ to her,” said another of the company, “he’ll
get tired of the job before she’s done enough listenin’; why, she’d
stay up all night to have a book read to her.”

In connection with the reading of written or printed matter to gypsies,
a curious fact has many times come under my notice:—

Those who are unable to read see nothing extraordinary in the
possibility of recording, by means of written or printed characters,
all the sounds of the English language; but that one should be able to
write anything that may be spoken in the Romany tongue, and afterwards
to read it so as to reproduce the original speech, nearly always
occasions surprise.

I have often jotted down jingles, verses or quaint sayings by the
simple method of phonetic spelling, and when, somewhat later, I have
read aloud what I had written, considerable surprise has been evinced.

“Ain’t it wonderful he can set it down in Romany,” says one who is
unable to spell even her own name.

A tolerably sharp ear and a good memory are needed to catch and record
many of the verses one hears, for gypsies generally speak rapidly, and
their rhymes and sayings are sometimes in poggado jib, a strangely
mixed or broken language that requires much practice to ensure fluency.

The following may be considered a good example of this jargon, which is
neither good Romany nor English:—

  “Mande went to poov the gry,
  All around the stiggur sty,
  Mush off to Mande,
  I takes off my chuvvel,
  I dels him in the per,
  So ope me duvvel dancin’,
  Mande cours well.”

It is unnecessary to render this jingle into English, but it serves
to convey the sound of this curious language, for I have recorded it
phonetically, exactly as spoken, and in common with much of the verse
beloved of the bedouin Arab this specimen is more forcible than elegant.

During the same evening I heard a girl recite a rhyme which must be
very old; it has been printed many times, and is fairly well known to
the student of Romany; nevertheless, one seldom hears it at the present
day and I was pleased to know it had not been lost, as many old gypsy
verses have been. The words were as follows and they differ in one
respect only from those which have been printed, the last word being
pronounced cosh, not cost:—

  “Can you rokkra Romany?
  Can you play the bosh?
  Can you jal adrey the staripen?
  Can you chin the cosh?”

In this, the real significance of the questions lies, not so much in
their literal meaning as in their idiomatic interpretation; instead of
the questions being simply—

  Can you speak the Romany?
  Can you play the fiddle?
  Can you go into the prison?
  Can you cut the stick?

a gypsy would understand them to signify—

... Are you a master of the Romany tongue?

Can you hold your own in a lav-chingaripen, or argument, in that

... Are you a master of the fiddle?

... Are you man enough to “face the music,” hear your sentence and do
your bit without flinching?

... Are you qualified to earn your living as a gypsy? For if you cannot
in one way or another “chin the cosh” to some purpose, on occasion,
then you will never be successful on the road.

The Romany tongue being no exception to the rule that idioms are one
of the principal stumbling blocks to students of languages other than
their own.

Around us, about the fair ground, weird lights now glimmered, moved
and disappeared, appeared again, wandered and went out, fires here and
there flared up for a minute, died down, flickered and left a glow
which dimly illuminated in an eerie fashion caravan, framework, and the
jumble of preparation for the morrow’s business.

Now and again some one threaded his way in the uncertain light, a man
stumbled over a peg in the shadow near me and relieved his feelings in
the customary manner; one of the party around our dying fire remarked
that “old Noah had got ’em again,” another, who seemed to have a
philosophy and a code of ethics of her own, sagely observed:—

“Swear words was sent for our use, and what I says is,—a man or woman
as swears and don’t mean nothin’ by it, will be forgiven, but not a
person as tells a lie.”

Here, it may be well to point out, that by gypsies it is often
considered permissible, if not praiseworthy, to tell lies of all sorts
and sizes to a gorgio, but a gypsy who tells a “whopper” to his own
folk is “an out-and-out bad ’un.”

At one period in our history it was considered to be right and proper
for all gentlemen to curse and swear, and to make use of every
description of curious or picturesquely worded blasphemy; to-day, the
prevalent conception of what constitutes a gentleman taboos profanity
in any guise, but an incident I recollect which is relevant to the
subject must certainly not go unrecorded:—

An old woman told a friend of mine that she _did_ like to hear her son
swear, as he “always swore so hearty it did her real good.” Probably,
every one will not be able to view the matter in the same light.

On that night before the fair I renewed acquaintance with a number of
gypsies whom I had last seen in the strawberry country, and much was
talked of that related to happenings since that date and our mutual
arrangements for meeting again in the hop gardens, a relation of which
would be wearisome to the general reader, but the following snatches of
conversation and jottings from my notebook of this date are not devoid
of interest as they cast a sort of side-light on the character of the

... The words “dear” and “dearie” are frequently used,—“take that dear
little bird in, it’s getting cold” (referring to a caged gold-finch,
hanging outside caravan).

... “Yes, it’s dreadful to think of the dear little children wanting
food” (referring to German atrocities in Belgium).

... “You go and witch yourself,” said a girl to an older relative,
during a brief display of temper; the woman to whom this was addressed,
turned to me and observed:—

“Ain’t that a dreadful thing to say to anybody, eh, Rye? She’s a devil,
she is.”

... Upon seeing a photograph of girls boxing, a woman remarked:—

“No, I don’t like to see women boxing, it’s too much like men. Women
should be women, and men should be men, I think.”

... “Yes, if I had more money I should buy a bicycle. I know where
there’s a good secondhand one I can buy for seven-and-six, but I can’t
afford it.”

... “I reckon some of the newspapers make a lot o’ money, why I heard
this morning of a man as buys four newspapers a day!”

The sound of the distant church clock striking the hour of ten was the
signal for parting salutations.

“Kushti rarde!”

“Kushti rarde, my Rye!”

A quarter of an hour later and not a sound broke the silence of the
fair ground,—a lull before the storm,—for on the morrow all would be
bustle and noise and other evidence of a determination to “make good”
while the opportunity lasted.

On the morning after the fair, by ten o’clock, no vestige of caravan,
tent or gypsy was to be seen,—otherwise, additional rent would have
been charged,—scarcely a sign was visible of the numerous fires that
had been there on the previous night, for most of these had been made
in large iron baskets, cylindrical iron containers some three feet or
so in height, or similar receptacles, in order that the fire should
not be in actual contact with the herbage, or a fine for burning the
grass would have been added to the rent for the ground; one fire I had
noticed was in a galvanized bath raised upon bricks from the ground.

The caravans, or as the gypsies frequently term them, living wagons,
are most interesting structures; they vary greatly in design, build
and fittings, and may cost anything between a few pounds and several
hundreds. Some of the travelling showmen appear to spare no expense in
the general “get up” of their homes, and while a liking for a kind of
barbaric splendour is not uncommon, the interior fittings of a few of
the best class of these portable houses are elaborate and costly, if
not exactly palatial, and it must be conceded to the gypsy,—well-to-do
or otherwise,—that in constructing his house on the common-sense
lines which are the outcome of experience he succeeds in solving the
problem of a house on wheels that will fulfil all reasonable, or even
extraordinary demands, far better than do the designers of some of the
touring vans one occasionally sees.

In bygone times, donkey caravans were used, many of them being little
more than covered carts, and to-day similar vehicles of a slightly
modified form may be seen drawn by horses or ponies, the vehicles being
too cumbrous and heavy to allow of a donkey being used as the draught
animal. I have, however, seen a pony between the shafts and a donkey
hitched on to the outside to assist.

The simplest form of what may be termed the covered van type of
dwelling is shown by the second van from the front in the Illustration.
The top or tilt is usually removable so that the owners may use it as
a tent, leaving the van free for ordinary purposes. I know a family
possessing a van of this description, who, during fruit picking,
contract for carrying to rail by means of the van while the tilt is
pegged down to the ground and utilized as a sleeping apartment.

I have been fortunate in obtaining in the one photograph, four
different classes of living wagon. The tilt of the simplest type is
composed of arched ribs covered with canvas or tarpaulin, that of
the foremost, and altogether more substantial vehicle is composed of
similar ribs which are covered with narrow planking, and this, in turn,
is covered with painted canvas.

[Illustration: TYPES OF LIVING WAGON.]

Most of the caravans are the work of professional wagon builders,
and vary in accordance with the ideas of the client and the sum he
is prepared to spend. Occasionally the gypsy constructs his own
habitation, and in such case usually purchases the under-carriage and
ironwork; he obtains most of his woodwork ready sawn, and executes the
greater part of the ornamental work, bevelling and so on, with the
knife, in the use of which he is an adept.

With regard to interior arrangement, there is, of course, as great, or
even a greater, difference in the cost and care expended on different
caravans than is apparent in the matter of exterior, but there is
withal a certain similarity in the disposition of the essentials. As
one enters the wagon, the fireplace is usually on the left hand, one
of the principal reasons for this being that when travelling, and
conforming to the rule of the road, the chimney protruding from the
roof is not liable to be damaged or broken off by the lower branches
of wayside trees, etc. Small ordinary, American, “Hostess” or other
stoves are fitted, but I recollect seeing in a caravan a stove that
consisted only of a piece of sheet-iron bent to a rough cylinder
tapering to a chimney, the lower part having a piece cut away and a
grid affixed therein. The family had no trouble to keep out the winter
cold, for this rather primitive stove would burn almost anything, the
van included if not carefully looked after. Almost invariably the
beds are across the van at the far end so that the weight is over the
hind wheels; usually they are raised some little distance from the
floor—the open space beneath being variously utilized, sometimes as a
sleeping apartment for the children, at others it is enclosed and has
doors for use as a cupboard. Plain or glass-fronted corner cupboards
may be found, and in some I have seen good pieces of old china, genuine
stuff, not the reproductions which are to be seen so frequently

Notwithstanding the fact that these things are highly prized and are
regarded as heirlooms by their owners, I have known valuable cups and
other articles to be in everyday use by both van and tent dwellers,
and he would be a brave dealer who—in some cases at least—ventured a
second time to attempt bargaining for possession.

“What a pity!” exclaims the connoisseur.


“Why shouldn’t I?” retorts the gypsy, “my people have always worked
hard for all they’ve had, and so have I. If I love the beautiful
shapes and colours of the old china that’s belonged to my people
time out of mind, that’s more than these nobs would; they don’t care
twopence for what’s beautiful in ’em, they only want ’em so they can
say I’ve got something nobody else can get and it cost me hundreds of
pounds.” The gypsy has a love for beauty of form, quaintness of design
and richness of colour, and if his worldly goods are few, he still has
his _lares et penates_, and if to use them in a legitimate way gives
him pleasure, “why,” as he asks, “shouldn’t he?”

For the preservative painting and exterior decoration of the caravan,
the most popular colours are green and yellow, a preference which may
perhaps be attributed to a reflex action on the mind of predominant
colours in nature they know and love so well.

Gypsies know well how to drive a bargain; despite this, or perhaps
because of it, the cheapest colour is not always used, as the
proprietor of the van has an eye to the lasting brilliance of the
colour. I know of an instance when a colour dealer offered a Romany
man a choice of lemon-coloured paints varying from fourpence to half a
crown the pound, and although the van owner appeared to be a good deal
exercised in mind as to the propriety of using a high-priced article,
which in appearance seemed exactly like the low-priced, he eventually
purchased the most expensive, it being explained to him that it would
retain its original brilliance for years, while the lower qualities
would probably fade in a short time. I did not see this van after it
had been painted, but it was, I believe, entirely of the brightest
lemon chrome procurable. As I have already indicated, green is favoured
by many as the principal colour for the outside of the van, and in
effect it is usually much less aggressive.

The Romany love of brilliant colour is, after all, but another Oriental
characteristic which persists, and, upon reflection, one cannot fail to
be impressed with the idea that it is not consistent to decry the taste
of the Romanichal as barbarous and at the same time select a mustard
colour for one’s own motor-car.

[Illustration: A GOOD TYPE OF CARAVAN.]


Intent on “copy,” I was one day sauntering along a road in my own
locality, when, just as a motor-car came into view round a curve, I
felt a sudden tug at my sleeve, and at the same instant I was adjured

“Come this side o’ the road; then, if they knocks you down, you gets

Turning to face the giver of this sage advice, I beheld, as I half
expected, one of my gypsy acquaintances; he was carrying a workman’s
rush bag in one hand, and from a pocket protruded the neck of a small
vase he was taking to his camp to repair. As he was a petulengro,
or tinker, and I had generally seen him engaged upon such work as
repairing pots and pans, I questioned him with reference to his doing
repairs to china; thereupon he informed me that he had “allus done a
little o’ that sort o’ thing,” that it needed care, but paid better
than the other work, and that latterly he had done more of it than
anything else.

As we trudged along, I persuaded him to talk of himself and his work.

“Ah!” said he, “I’ve seen some rum people in my travels; some won’t
trust me an inch away from ’em, and others lets me cart their crockery
home to do it; I’ve riveted pretty near everything, from egg-shell
china to Dutch tiles; some o’ the stuff’s been as hard as flint an’
some so soft that it pulled the ‘spark’ out o’ my drill and left it
down at the bottom of a hole same as a terrier in a rabbit burrow,
and it often takes as much coaxin’ to get out. O’ course them diamond
sparks don’t run to much money, but you can’t give one in with a
threepenny rivetin’ job, can you? There’s old Mrs. ——, a reg’lar
old —— she is; do you know she makes me sit in her kitchen to mend her
fireproof dishes and such-like, and they’re as hard as granite; but
because they take time to drill she thinks I’m doin’ it o’ purpose,
but the more money people has the less they seems to know. I don’t go
near her if I can help it, but, o’ course, you can’t say you won’t do
it when they sends after you. Now there’s Mr. ——, he’s different and
no mistake; he’ll give me lots o’ work, and he generally drops a bit
o’ cake or something o’ that sort into my pocket when he sees me, but
they say that’s the sort as dies young,” and, turning towards me, he
gave a knowing wink, and added, “’cos you don’t find many of ’em about.
I once taught an old fellow the way to mend his own china, but, you
bet, I made him pay for it; not as there’s much in it, but I guessed he
wouldn’t want me ’ny more. My missis is as good as me at rivetin’, and
she does a lot I takes home. Well, good day to you. I turns in here;
p’rhaps you’ll be this way again ’fore long.” So saying, he turned off
into the forest, presumably in the direction of his encampment.

Continuing my way along the high road towards a bypath which should
lead me to the gypsy camp that was really the object of my excursion, I
had barely completed my notes of the conversation just related when I
met a man who had come from it. He was carrying a fairly large bundle
and was hurrying in the direction of the railway station; he did not
stop, but called as he passed—

“Can’t stop now, want to get these off by train; back in half an hour;
my missis and brother are at the camp, you know where.”

Upon arriving at the camp I found all busy making artificial flowers,
and I was informed by the “missis” that her “man” had a contract with
a wholesale firm who took all they could make. The children were at it
too, handling the knife rapidly and cleverly. As the manufacture of
flowers of the kind upon which they were engaged appears to be local, a
description of the process will be of interest:—

The flowers are nearly always of the chrysanthemum or daisy type; green
wood is used, pieces of straight grain being selected, as knots would,
of course, cause trouble, and the rejection of unsuitable stuff does
not add appreciably to the cost of production when the gypsy gets raw
material for nothing,—or very little more. Firstly, a piece of wood
of, say, six inches in length, and three-quarters of an inch, or less,
in diameter, is taken and the bark shaved from it, the stick is then
held so that the knife is drawn towards the operator in cutting the
outer petals; these are cut of the width and to the length decided
upon, the degree to which they curl away from the knife depending
partly upon the nature of the wood as well as the angle at which the
knife is held. After closely cutting all around the stick in this way,
similar rows or rings are cut round and round, length and width being
diminished as the centre is approached, until the stick, at the point
which should be the centre of the flower, becomes so attenuated that it
breaks easily or comes away altogether, leaving an artificial flower.
Variations in the shape of the flower, from conical to under-curling
flat, may be made by giving the knife a greater or lesser outward turn
when the base of each petal is reached, thereby bending it outward and
down. The flowers are finally wired, the stems wound with green paper,
and arranged for sale. These gypsy folk have an ingenious but simple
method of dyeing the flowers; they immerse the sticks from which they
are to be cut—after first getting rid of the bark—in boiling dye,
which they allow to penetrate more or less, according to effect aimed
at, and when the flowers are cut they are often beautifully variegated
and shaded, while others are dyed altogether.

After the man had returned to the camp, he gave me some interesting
particulars of their work, and said the reason for using green wood is
that the flowers retain the form imparted to them in the cutting if
they are made from the green stuff and allowed to dry. He stated also
that they had to make the best they could of daylight, for the work by
candle light was extremely trying for the eyes; he had, himself, at
one time worked by candle light a good deal, but found he would lose
his sight if he persisted in it: he said, moreover, that by sitting
closely at work, he was able, single-handed, to make and complete a
gross of flowers in one day. In the course of our conversation upon
all sorts of topics there was frequent evidence that—despite his lack
of scientific knowledge—he was very much interested in all natural
objects. He described, pretty minutely, a curious nest of wasps he had
observed, “about as big as a cricket-ball,[3] hanging from a ‘hurt’
bush,”[4] and related how a grass snake which had come into the tent,
took possession of a sleeve of his coat that happened to be lying on
the ground; he also spoke of rats in the strawberry country and stated
that his “missis” was awakened one night by a rat nibbling her hair;
this is not to be in the least discredited, for in the same locality I
once saw in one evening, within a space of fifty yards, no less than
five large rats running across a lane towards or from gypsy encampments
to which these rodents had probably been attracted by the potato skins,
bits of crust and other waste food lying around.

[Illustration: THE MAKER OF TOY CHAIRS.]

This man was also a skewer-maker—escunye-mengro,—but said there was
practically no demand for them now, metal skewers being so much used,
and added, that as a matter of fact he never made them now unless he
had a special request for them.

“You haven’t seen mother to-day, have you?” he questioned, and without
waiting for my reply, added—

“Come over to her tent, the old lady’s making chairs and I’m sure
she’ll be glad to see you.”

Although I was well known to the old woman, had chatted with her
a great many times and had seen her work, I had never before been
fortunate enough to find her making her famous chairs, contrivances,
by the way, which would probably provoke the mirth or arouse the pity
of an expert workman, but which were nevertheless ingenious in a way,
and were really wonderful productions for a woman who had passed the
allotted span of life. Now I had her before me actually making these
things,—the old lady with her strong and still handsome, kindly
Romany face,—and I found my mind working quickly, presenting to me
and unrolling before me, as it were in a dream, a panorama of her
untainted record of years and years of toil,—such as “society” cannot
even imagine,—carried on day, month and year, in and out, in order
to earn, together with her husband, enough to enable them to keep a
hold on life, and rear their children; later on, working by herself
for years to support her invalid husband, afterwards giving him decent
burial, living her life through with never more of the necessaries of
life at hand than enough for the immediate future, and never more than
a blanket between her and the sky, until the picture was disclosed that
I now had before me in reality—the old woman, with one foot in the
grave, one might say, her husband gone over to the majority, and all
her children grown up and living apart; here she was, taking no anxious
thought for the morrow, working as cheerily as ever, doing her best and
leaving the rest to God,—one of Nature’s gentlewomen.

Regaining full consciousness of my surroundings, which for the moment
had become hazy, I heard her reply to my greeting—

“Yes, pretty well, my Rye, thank you,—nothing to grumble about,

We maintained a desultory conversation while she kept on with her
occupation of making babies’ and dolls’ chairs, so that I had ample
demonstration of the process of manufacture.

In the first place, a number of freshly cut sticks were peeled, and
cut into manageable lengths upon her “work bench,” which consisted
of a wooden post some three or four inches in diameter, driven into
the ground so as to present a flattish top at a convenient height for
cutting upon by a person seated on the ground near it. After having
decided upon the size of chair she intended to make, she cut one piece
of wood of the length desired for the back, and another for the front
legs, to be used as gauges. After cutting several dozens by these,
she took smaller sticks and cut the rails or pins in the same manner;
these she then tapered at both ends and laid aside. Her next operation
was the boring of back and front legs for the insertion of rails; this
she accomplished with a large bradawl; subsequently she fitted the
tapered pieces into the holes, and drove up the whole tight by means
of a hammer. Afterwards, she plaited bast fibre across to form seats,
thereby giving the finishing touch to small chairs, which, if not
absolutely symmetrical, were sufficiently attractive to cause little
folk to worry their elders into buying them to accommodate their own
little persons or their dolls.

The knife used by most of the gypsies for their wood-working consists
usually of a flat and nearly straight blade having a substantial
handle, but I have occasionally seen them using knives having
slightly curved blades of the kind favoured by leather cutters or by
upholsterers for cutting floor coverings. These knives do not fold, and
crude sheaths are often made for them; frequently, however, they are
simply wrapped in two or three folds of paper for protection.

After photographing the old lady, I set out for home, intending to make
a rather wide detour in order to pass through another Romany camping
ground, fully expecting two families, or, at the least, one, to be at
home. In this I was to be disappointed, for upon reaching the spot I
found the locality quite deserted; nevertheless, I was fortunate in
timing my visit, for it afforded one of the best of my opportunities to
decipher the secret signs of the Romanies.

They are an acutely observant people, especially with regard to
natural objects, reminding one of the Arab or Red man, by their quick
apprehension of, and deductions from, circumstances having a bearing
on the affair in hand, and, to some extent, of the aboriginal black
trackers in their keen detection of minute quantities of matter
that are foreign to the natural dispensation of things in different
localities, and they are in consequence liable to be somewhat impatient
or contemptuous in their attitude towards those who are otherwise;
therefore, from their point of view, nothing more distinctly stamps a
man as a gorgio than the fact that he is “dull o’ comprehension” in
such matters.

I will now give my reading of the signs I discovered, and state how my
deductions were arrived at, not with the idea of supplying a key to
all such gypsy tokens, but by detailing the facts in this instance to
illustrate one of their methods of communication.

After having examined the camping ground, I found I had noted the
following as my conclusions, and they subsequently proved to be quite

... Two families had encamped, but had not stayed many days.

... They had left that morning between the hours of nine and eleven.

... The two families had left together.

... They had not gone to their usual next camping ground, but had at
first gone some distance upon the main road.

... All were walking, and there were a number of children.

The signs left by the campers, known to gypsies as a patrin or pateran,
which enabled me to form these opinions were as follows:—

Two pieces of wood—one long, one short—were laid together V-wise; in
the centre was the lid of an old tin canister in which was placed a
bit of heather, very much branched, that is to say, no piece had been
removed. The larger piece of wood was so placed that it pointed away
from the main road, but a little way from it there had been placed
another piece which was much bent, and this pointed in the direction of
another main road cutting across that previously mentioned.

So much for the description of the pateran itself.

... The ashes had been thrown off the fire tray and were still dry.
Now, there had been rain that morning just before nine o’clock,
therefore the families had left after that hour, having breakfasted
before striking camp.

... The grass where the tents had been was fairly green and not so
sickly-looking as it would have been had bedding, etc., lain upon it
long, therefore they could have stayed but a day or two.

This observation could have been verified by an examination of the hole
made by the kettle prop, but it was not necessary.

... I arrived at the spot at about eleven o’clock, approaching by the
road they had taken, and, as I had not met them it was evident they had
left between nine and eleven o’clock.

... The bent stick lying apart from the remainder of the arrangement
indicated that the company was on foot, for the stick would have been
straight if the families had possessed a van.

... The piece of heather told me there were several children—the
canister lid being used only to prevent it being overlooked.

... The long and short pieces of wood indicated men and women.

... The fact that two families had been there was ascertained upon
searching for the holes made by the tent rods.

This description of pateran is modern, and may be considered as more
or less a family matter, the materials composing it, and the manner of
using them, being to a great extent the result of a private arrangement
and might not be correctly interpreted by members of another tribe.

The true patrin or pateran usually consists of leaves or grass thrown
down in a certain manner by the wayside to guide gypsies in following
the main party, which may have gone forward several days. As the
arrangement differs with different families, and a variation in the
arrangement may affect its signification, a non-gypsy is not likely to
gain much information should he chance to discover a pateran. In event
of it being necessary to cross a city or town, modifications of the
patrin are used, so that notwithstanding the turns taken in passing
from one side of the place to the other, the straggler is enabled to
find the exact route taken and follow unerringly. If several families
from different localities were to pass through a city at about the same
time, using the same roadways for a part or the whole of the way, a
gypsy could tell how many families had passed through a certain street
and the direction they took, and would identify his own family sign.


[Illustration: THE TRUE “PATERAN.”]

In connection with these methods of intercommunication, the intelligent
observation of natural objects, which, as I have previously stated, is
a gypsy characteristic, plays an important part; for instance, take
the simplest form of patrin, handfuls of grass flung down by the side
of road or track at intervals,—a follower is able to say approximately
when they were thrown down, and, knowing the distance usually covered
in a day, he can, to a certain extent, tell where to find those
who placed the patrin, due consideration having been given to such
circumstances as—time when a shower fell, prevailing sun or shade,
dryness or other condition of the grass, and so on. But why, it may be
urged, should not the gypsy confuse the patrin of his own tribe with
a similar one of another family travelling for a distance in the same
direction on the same track, at about the same time?

The matter is, of course, extremely simple, for however close the
similarity of the signs of different families might appear to a gorgio,
there would always be an identifiable peculiarity about each which the
gypsy would instantly recognize, beside which it will be obvious that a
second party would always realize the futility of placing a patrin upon
or near one of a similar nature.

In order further to elucidate the principles upon which the use of
the patrin is based, we will suppose that three different families
traverse the same stretch of forest track, moor or road, each, later
on, taking a different direction at cross roads, and see how stragglers
are enabled to track and rejoin their family. To the town dweller who
is unaccustomed to finding a way through forests, over moors, roads,
byways and lanes, this will seem almost an impossible task; in reality,
however, it is quite simple. Imagine then that members of one of our
families are makers of bee pots, grass baskets and the like,—those of
another, makers of clothes-pegs and skewers, and that the third family
are hawkers or flower sellers. Family number one strikes camp and
sets out on the road, now and again flinging down a handful of grass;
this is quite sufficient to guide members of the family following,
for the grass will be of the kind used in the staple industry of the
family,—the construction of bee-hives and baskets; the grass being a
species peculiar to local marshes and bogs is at once recognized by
the family, while it will probably be quite unnoticed by the ordinary
pedestrian, or, if noticed, will signify nothing. It may be noted here
that many families pursue certain handicrafts in certain localities
only, for the reason that they use what is afforded by each district in
the way of raw material.


After a time, family number two sets out, and as they have been making
clothes-pegs, some handfuls of the countless thousands of chips lying
around are put into pockets and are scattered here and there as they

Later, the third family moves off and makes an equally effective
pateran in a similarly simple manner, for with the knife they take
a few slices of turf, taking care to cut deeply enough to include
a little of the soil; this they break into small pieces which they
drop at turnings and so on, precisely in the manner of the two other
parties. For some distance at least then there will be three distinct
trails along the same road, all of which will probably be entirely
overlooked by every one but the gypsies who are interested, and to them
they will give much information.

The soils of different districts differ much, and when a pateran of
peat is found in a chalk district the inference is obvious,—gypsies
from a heather country have passed, and vice versa.

It is not necessary to our purpose to explain at length other
variations of the patrin, nor to describe numerous signs in everyday
use by the gypsies, which have more of the nature of family secrets
and which if divulged would add little of interest, for obviously the
pateran may be varied indefinitely, and each family make a code of
its own. The practice of making a simple device in the sand or dust at
the roadside, the tying or affixing of pieces of rag to bushes, and
numerous other means of imparting information might be described, but
would amount to little more than repetitions in various forms of the
signs already noticed.

All these devices would appear to have been instituted with the dual
purpose of giving desired information to their own people and of
rendering it impossible for the Gentiles to arrive at any certain
knowledge concerning them.

True Romany folk, as a race, have kept aloof from the Gentiles or
non-gypsy people; even now that the latter are often on friendly terms
with them, they are treated in various ways as being without the pale,
and so jealous are gypsies of their own tongue that they seldom speak
it in the hearing of the gorgios unless it be for the purpose of
keeping something secret from them.

Although they do not despise postal facilities, they have also ways of
their own for transmitting intelligence, among which natural object
signals and symbols have a place.


  “To me men are what they are.
  They wear no masks with me.”


In other ways, really in every way, excepting where met by laws which
can be neither broken nor circumvented, gypsies live their own
life apart, and whether in childhood they have, or have not received
education with non-gypsy children, they have, as adults, all the
apparently ineradicable and unchangeable Romany attributes and tastes,
with physical powers well developed by the simple, open-air life, and
although they are not subjected to the same mental exercises as many of
the town dwellers, some of their faculties become highly developed, and
by no means always in an undesirable direction.

A gypsy might not show to advantage if questioned on abstruse
scientific matters, but he would be able to gain a good living and
realize comfort in places where his scientific master would perish
miserably from starvation; he would be able to point out a hare or a
rabbit at such a distance that it would be an unrecognizable speck in
the landscape to a keen-eyed gorgio. Comparisons of this nature might
be multiplied _ad libitum_, but while it would be both foolish and
unfair to attempt to belittle the achievements of the city worker or
scholar, it must be admitted that they very frequently gain immensely
in one direction but lose heavily in the other.

The gypsy appreciates—often unconsciously, perhaps—the glorious
colouring at rise or set of sun, he loves the daybreak music of waking
Nature and the voices of the night; but all too often, it is to be
feared, his brother of the town looks upon Nature as putting up a very
poor show in comparison with the scenic display and the orchestral work
of his favourite house of entertainment.


Time sped on apace,—as to the occupied mind it ever has,—and, before
I fully realized how quickly the weeks had slipped by, I found myself
bound for the Mecca of many a Romanichal and home-dweller alike,—the
hop country.

As the majority of my Romany friends were to be found in the Hampshire
gardens rather than in those of Kent, I directed my steps to the
picturesque district in the vicinity of Alton, and soon discovered that
families with whom I was acquainted were located at two encampments
some four or five miles apart, to say nothing of the separated sections
of each encampment.

I am fortunate in possessing a well-developed bump of locality, and was
enabled, after a survey of the neighbourhood, to lessen considerably
the walking distance between the camps by taking advantage of short
cuts and field paths; but the whole of my first day in the land of
hops and gypsies was spent in gaining knowledge of the principal camps
in the neighbourhood of Alton and the country intervening between them
and similar encampments in the direction of Binsted,—the inevitable
result of such reconnoitring being a return home, tired out, in the
evening. The revivifying and invigorating effect of a night in the
open, however, enabled me to be on foot early the next morning, and,
although my projected journey to the further camps entailed a walk
of five miles out, I got off at a brisk pace as there was a nip of
autumn in the air, and soon settled down into a steady swing; a little
later, the sun shone with considerable power, as it frequently does
in an English September, so that by the time I had reached the summit
of a long, steep hill some little distance on my way in an easterly
direction, the country opened out before me from under the fast
disappearing haze; on my right lay the village of Selborne, set in a
sea of blue haze, and away to my left I could discern the spire of
Binsted church, often called hereabout, the “gypsies’ church,” owing
presumably to the fact that numerous gypsy weddings and christenings
take place there during the hop-picking. After proceeding a mile or two
further, and beyond the limit of my survey of the previous day, the
haze, which at first seemed to be rapidly clearing off, began to gather
again and I considered it prudent to inquire my way of a gypsy with
whom I was slightly acquainted, who now came towards me. Evidently he
remembered me well, for he replied in Romany—

“Jal a bit ta tuti’l dick a pukkering cosh by the rik of the
drom,—kushti divvus, mush.”

Thanking him, I walked on a little as he advised, keeping a look-out
for the finger-post to which he had referred. Another quarter-mile and
I came upon it, after which the way was easy, and ere long I was at the
spot selected as the camping ground for the next few weeks.

Since I had left my first camping ground that day, the clouds, which
early in the morning seemed to be clearing for a fine day, had latterly
grown rather than dwindled, becoming heavier and blacker as the
afternoon wore on, and before teatime a steady rain was falling.

Everything seemed very dismal in the continued rain, the caravans
around were discernible as through wetted ground glass, those at a
little distance being nearly swallowed up by the prevailing mist; under
the nearest of them stood some dejected-looking fowls with lowered
heads and drooping tails, pictures of misery. Many gypsies were abroad,
for it was Buddigur divvus,—shopping day, or Saturday,—and they were
away to procure bread and other necessaries. Eventually, they returned,
and as one after another they passed near me as I sat under cover, I
could see that all must be wet to the skin; several upon seeing me
passed some jocular remark upon the weather, and had not the strange
procession of heavily laden women, men and children been so obviously
discomfited, the picture they made would have been very funny. One
mother attempted to shelter her babe from the wet by holding over it
the half of what had once been an umbrella; a boy had placed a large
galvanized wash-tray over his head to protect him from the rain, I say
_him_ advisedly, for it is not possible that his clothes could have
suggested a thought for their preservation; anyhow, his trousers—such
as they were—and his shirt were not afterwards taken off but were
dried on the bottle-jack principle, the boy turning first one side to
the fire, then the other until they no longer steamed.

Although I had luckily not got wet through, I could not avoid sharing
to some degree the general discomfort, for where I was now encamped
there were about thirty caravans and a number of tents, the greater
number of which were owned by members of the gypsy fraternity, and all
around was the squalling of babies and the shouting of men and women.

Regarding the circumstances from a purely personal point of view,
I could not altogether regret this cheerless commencement of the
“hopping,” as it disclosed to me a somewhat different phase of Romany
life. I had lived among them in bright weather and in dull, but never
before had I fraternized with them under more depressing conditions.
So dismal was it that even the camp fire was unable to sustain its
reputation for cheeriness, so we turned in early, and for some time
after could hear men and women returning from their belated shopping;
occasionally an uncertain top-heavy step passing the tent would publish
the fact that a call had been made at the kitchema—in order, we will
charitably suppose, to “wait till the clouds rolled by.”

The angry voices of the stragglers who brought up the rear were
silenced as the heavy rain drove them home.

As I lay in bed I could feel the rain falling on my face in fine
spray, and before I could get to sleep a crane-fly settled on my ear,
while another danced about my chin compelling me to get up and stop
their antics; again I sought repose but had not lost consciousness
when a dor-beetle, which had got into the tent, flew around with a
deep hum, struck something with a smack and subsided suddenly; as I
did not anticipate a repetition of this performance, I left it to its
own devices, but think I did not fall asleep until the last gypsy had
turned in. I slept fitfully and remember being awake long enough once
during the night to notice the twinkling of the stars through the
minute openings in the canvas overhead.

Before sunrise I was awakened by the scratching of a fowl on the
outside of my tent, of which it seemed to be making an ascent in order
to herald the new day; at the critical moment, however, he appeared
to lose his hold, and with a good deal of fluttering descended to the
ground and contented himself with crowing lustily as he ambled around
the tent, an achievement that made me wish to throw things.

Once fairly awake, further sleep was impossible, and I found my
clothes, which I had placed on the bed for additional warmth, quite
damp from the rain which, in the earlier part of the night, had been
driven into the tent in the form of mist. As I did not feel anxious
to rise for yet another hour or two, I secured pen and paper, and by
propping myself up in bed was enabled to watch the daybreak and the
waking camp through an opening in the flap of the tent.

The chanticleer that had aroused the camp was answered by a conceited
bantam away somewhere at the far corner, then a dog barked, later a
horse or two whinnied; in a short time people moved to and fro and
there were sounds of chopping and the breaking of wood; this was soon
kindled and smoke from the numerous fires wreathed the camp in a blue
haze. In the wood just in the rear, a pigeon cooed plaintively, while
nearer a robin was singing; then my ears were assailed by the cries of
children and I caught sight of horses being led past and heard their
steady plod, plod, through the sodden grass. The women and older girls
were now attending to the dressing of the younger children. Snatches of
conversation reached me, expressively worded requests were borne on the
air from all quarters of the camp:—

“Here, you kid! jal to the pawnugo hev.”

“Fetch me some water,—d’ye hear?”

“Go and get some milk, I tell yer!”

“Acoi, kai si o pani-mengri?”

“Plastra, you kid!”

These and similar exclamations and commands were to be heard on all
sides. One little fellow was told by his sister to fetch water and he
replied saucily—

“No, miss, I’m too young to fetch water. Why! me fetch water with
all them gurt big fellows about (referring to his brothers). No, me
lady, to-day’s rest day and I’m goin’ to walk about all day like a
gentleman”—thereupon he hooked his thumbs behind his braces and
strutted about with bare feet in the wet grass.

“Rest day” with this boy was any day he happened to feel a
disinclination to work.

Upon one occasion his father threatened correction with a small stick,
but the boy seemed very little impressed, for he retorted—

“If you touch me, I won’t pick another hop to-day! and I run like a
March hare if I have got a sore foot.”

In some such manner he usually disarmed his father, and sometimes
perhaps escaped deserved punishment; but although his precocity might
possibly develop later in a vicious direction, he was at this time
overflowing with fun and mischief, and was easily the best-loved
kiddie in the entire camp.

Preparations for the departure of pickers to the gardens were now going
on apace; tea was being made in the usual boilers, and food packed for
the midday meal.

At last, all had gone off to their respective picking grounds, leaving
the camp practically deserted. Faint wisps of smoke ascended from
the camp fires, and the watch-dogs settled themselves for a long,
comfortable sleep by the side of or under the living wagons.

The day was fine and I followed the Romanichals to the scene of their
labour. By the time I arrived, work was in full swing, and numerous
picturesque “bits” and groups tempted me to secure photographs of them.
For this class of work I generally use a camera of the reflex type,
in which, as the reader is probably aware, the picture to be taken is
reflected by a suitably placed mirror upon a ground-glass screen at
the top of the camera, the screen being provided with a hood to shield
it from extraneous light, and it is of course intended for the use of
one person only at a time; but in the hop gardens the idea appeared to
prevail that two could use the camera at once, so that my photography
was rendered somewhat difficult and occasionally embarrassing. The
gypsy girls became at once interested in the “black art,” all being
anxious to see every one else as he or she appeared in the camera. So
intent was one Romany chi upon getting an insight to photography as
represented by the view in the camera, that she put her arm around my
neck in order that she might see into the hood at the same time as
myself, and I feel sure that when the shutter clicked, she considered
she had assisted materially in the composing and taking of the picture.
To be quite fair, I must say we got a fine picture,—but who would not
have done so under such conditions!

Copious and varied were the remarks upon the situation by the pickers
within range, and we were the butt for much merriment.

As life, to many of the gypsies, would seem to be little more than a
series of struggles with a malign fate, one may feel grateful if he is
able sometimes to make an occasion for merry quip and jest, or afford
them an opportunity to joke at his expense.

The animated scenes connected with “hopping” are extremely picturesque,
for in a favourable season the hop gardens themselves, apart from the
band of pickers, are very beautiful, the fragrant hop flowers hanging
like immense grapes in a huge vinery covering acre after acre. Here and
there between the hop-poles glimpses may be obtained of distant trees
and fields, the brilliant yellow patch of a field of mustard here,
green fields there, backed by a line of indigo on the horizon, and so
on, each little picture being framed by the hop-poles. Personally,
I never tired of this gallery of Nature’s pictures, and frequently
returned home by the longest route in order to see more of them.

While yet early, all around is chatter and merriment and the children
amuse themselves as best they may while their parents are at work.
When picking is in progress in the Hampshire hop gardens, one sees
baskets used in preference to the bin, and many a meaning glance and
fateful word pass from chal to chi and from chi to chal over these
baskets, for love-making with gypsies is usually carried on openly,
often with the prospective father-and mother-in-law at work on either
side and occasionally taking part in the conversation. If a loving
couple chance to be working near a “home-dweller” they may converse
in Romany, feeling pretty certain that the home-dweller will not
really understand anything they may say. Although the gypsy tongue is
deficient to some extent in such terms of endearment as are beloved
of the gorgio, Romanies have recourse to idioms which are often more
expressive to those who are conversant with the language than gorgico
jib, or the speech of the Gentiles.

While fully recognizing the camaraderie existing among Romany people,
an intimate acquaintance with them cannot fail to discover sets or
coteries which seem to be formed on bases of relationship or social
standing; indeed, one may at times find it somewhat difficult to
realize that he is concerned with gypsy society, rather than that spelt
with a capital S, which in every matter pertaining to this life or the
next bows low unto and obeys the commands of Mrs. Grundy.

When making inquiries of one family concerning another, I have more
than once received replies, of which the following is an example:—

“Oh yes, we knows ’em very well, but we don’t have nothing to do with
’em; here, Jobey, you go with the Rye and show him where the ——’s
tent is.”

There are gypsies of my acquaintance who own land and expensive living
wagons, and have the best of everything,—undoubtedly they work hard
but have a good time generally. These, be it understood, are not “show”
folk, but Tachey Romanies, whose skins are as dark as may be seen, and
who upon marriage would spend a sum of three figures upon their wedding
van. I know others whose entire worldly possessions would probably not
fetch half a sovereign at a jumble sale. One fellow told a friend of
mine that he got married on sixpence, but added as a kind of mitigation
of his rashness, that he had a tent. Yet, among them all—rich, poor,
richest and poorest alike, there is that splendid and pervading spirit
of sympathy, amounting to a compelling desire to share to the last
penny with those whose need is greater than their own. One of them once
said to me—

“Pal, you know the gypsy law—if I have a loaf of bread and you are in
need, half of that loaf is yours; and you, being a tatcho pal and a
Romany mush, I know you’d do the same. If neither of us had anything,”
he continued, “we’d go halves in that as well.”

“Auvali, auvali” (yes, yes), I replied, smiling at his curious manner
of expression, albeit the following passages flitted just then through
my mind—

... “Which of these thinkest thou was neighbour?”

... “Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

... “Go thou and do likewise.”

As an opportunity of the nature premised did not offer, my friend now
demonstrated his genuineness by allowing me to use his van at any time
for depositing photographic and other material which I should otherwise
be obliged to carry about with me until I returned to my tent later
in the day. Moreover, I had a seat at his fireside and he was a most
gentlemanly host.

I had many friends in the gardens and did not wish to appear to be
oblivious of any of them by putting in all the time I felt inclined to
devote to picking for one basket, thereupon at the words, “Auv acoi,
miro Rye,” addressed to me by a Romany girl some little distance away,
I considered it both advisable and polite to accede to her request,
and give a hand at the basket into which she was picking. I will
not inflict upon the reader our conversation in Romany and English
verbatim, but give it done into more solid English:—

“Well, Rye, when you left us at —— fair I never thought I should
see you again. Can you pick hops?” This was obviously a subterfuge for
opening the conversation, as she had seen me helping to fill other
baskets, therefore I could but answer in the affirmative.


“Then you might give us a hand.”

Scarcely had she said this when my hat (fortunately a soft felt) was
crushed down over my eyes, for the girl had pulled down the next bine
and a mass had fallen on my head. It is true she had warned me by
saying, “Mind your head!” but had not given me time to get out of the

“There!” she exclaimed, laughing, “I didn’t do that on purpose, did I?”

I replied that I was not quite sure, but suggested it might have been
an accident.

“That’s kushti o’ tute, Rye,” she answered, and we turned to picking in

“Do you know,” she began again, “I made sure you were married, but
you’re not, are you?”

I replied to this in the negative.

“And are you going to be?” she queried.

“No,” said I; “at least not until the right person comes my way.”

“Ain’t you never taken any one out?” she continued.

At this critical juncture the “pole puller” arrived, and with a “mind
your heads!” sent down large sprays of hops into the basket and our
conversation on such personal matters was not resumed, for a member of
the Church Army Mission came around with hot tea in an urn which was
conveyed along the lines in a perambulator. This solicitude on the part
of the C.A. is greatly appreciated, the charge made for the tea being
absurdly low. Cut cake was also dispensed by a lady worker at a similar
“selling off” price.

After the brief tea and cake diversion we continued our picking.

For the information of those who have no experience of the pleasure
that may be derived from picking hops, I may say that beyond alertness,
and nimbleness of fingers, no special aptitude for the work is
demanded, but the class of person whose fingers are “all thumbs” will
not be likely to get much pleasure out of the occupation and had
better stay at home, or, at least, keep out of the way, for they will
not be wanted during “hopping.” A quick child has often been known to
pick cleaner and in greater quantity than many an adult, and, as with
strawberries, so with hops, the gypsies are almost invariably the
cleanest and most rapid pickers.

Naturally alert and quick, the Romanichal must not be likened to the
average rural worker or farm hand, who will perhaps do fairly well
the class of work he is required to do, but is altogether lacking
in the adaptability and quick-wittedness of the true gypsy. For
instance, the normal rustic usually finds it a tough job to acquire
sufficient English, of a kind, to enable him to hold communication
with his fellow-man and to help him in gaining a livelihood, while the
Romanichal, who usually does not attend even a village school, speaks
English fluently, with fewer grammatical errors and far less dialect
than the labourer, and for his own particular uses has the well-beloved
and musical Romany. Thus—speaking in terms of comparison—we may say
that the true gypsy exemplifies the grace and skill of the Oriental,
while the average rustic appears to be a welding of Teutonic clumsiness
and Saxon stupidity.

I soon discovered that my companion was, in intelligence, quite up to
the average chi, and that she brought a good deal of philosophy to bear
upon her view of life. During our talk she asked—

“Rye, do you care what people say about you?”

“No,” I replied; “why should I?”

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said, and went on—

“I think if everybody got an honest living they wouldn’t care what
people thought about them. If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s
pride; it makes such fools of people, and rich folks are generally the
proudest, but you know as well as I do it’s the people who work the
hardest that have the most right to be proud, but they’re too sensible.

“I know a man who had a lot of money, and when his hair got a little
grey he dyed it, but that didn’t help him to be honest, did it?

“Ah well! our basket’s full, perhaps you’ll give a hand to empty it
into this bag.”

Having accomplished this we resumed the pulling and picking; eventually
a whistle sounded and all the pickers called out at once, making a
good deal of noise for a few seconds,—the day’s work was finished
after we had picked those we had down. After the hops had been “booked”
and collected by the carts preparatory to taking them to the kiln for
drying, we “knocked off” and turned our faces homeward.

Only a few minutes had elapsed after our return ere kettles were
singing,—for a wood fire made in the open hurries matters,—and,
furnished with good appetites, we sat down to a well-earned tea, after
which the long evening was before us. Before we had finished washing up
tea-things, the evening mist began to rise, for it must be remembered
we were in the latter half of the month of September, so we cut enough
firewood to last the evening, and built up a good fire.

Some people there certainly are, many probably, who in their
well-ordered homes are surrounded by most of the comforts and
conveniences science and the arts have rendered possible, but would
pass a gypsy encampment on a windswept moor without giving a thought
to the occupants, or at most would regard them as dishonest, low-lived
outcasts, perhaps deserving pity, but a nuisance anyway. To such I
commend the philosophy of my girl friend of the afternoon and the
following words of an old gypsy which I heard by the camp fire after

“I would give nothing,” he said, “to be able to live in a large house;
I think them as has the most money has the most to worry ’em, so they
can’t think of anybody but themselves.”

Discussions on this and similar statements or assertions by other
members of our group made the time pass all too rapidly, and when
most of the eyes around the fire began to get heavy, a large jugful
of cocoa—enough to go round—was made and partaken of to the
accompaniment of bread and cheese. A little later, the camp was quiet
in sleep.


In previous chapters passing mention has been frequently made of the
Romany language,—the tongue of the true gypsy,—and it is interesting
to note that a writer, some fifty years since, said he regretted to
have to say that in a few years the language would not be spoken, if,
indeed, there would be any gypsies to speak it. Such a statement, made
by an undoubted authority on the subject at that period, would probably
be considered by many at the present time sufficient to warrant an
assertion that the Romany language is now practically dead, together
with most of the Romanies themselves. Even a superficial investigation
of the matter by the man in the street would tend to confirm this
idea as the gypsy resents any interference with his affairs, and
is, moreover, very jealous of his language. This should occasion no
surprise, for, from the first appearance of gypsies in this country,
right down to the present time, they have not been treated in a way
calculated to engender in them a belief in the good intentions of the
Gentiles. However, a very different state of things from that premised
will be found actually to exist by the few who have full opportunities,
while possessing the necessary qualifications for forming a correct
opinion, for the gypsy is not by any means extinct, and, not only is
the old language very much alive among the Romanies, but they have
coined or built up words to denote inventions that were unknown to the
writer of half a century ago.

It must be admitted that cant or slang words are used for many objects,
but it will be found that Romany is used in a number of cases,
alternatively with such words.

In colloquial Romany, as in English, a number of words are trimmed or
abbreviated so that while conversation is thereby rendered more facile,
the way of the would-be learner of the language is made additionally
hard,—for instance, the term kekauvisky saster—the iron upon which
the kettle is hung—is frequently abbreviated to kaubisaster,—kaubi
being synonymous with kekauvi for kettle, and, as it gives less trouble
to say, is really better, for one is less likely to confuse it with kek
or kekko—meaning no, not, etc. Dickoi, too, is used for dick acoi
(look here), and in place of paniskey shock (water-cress), the shorter
word panishock is often substituted.

[Illustration: “DOLCE FAR NIENTE.”]

As the scope of this work does not include the teaching of the Romany
tongue, I will not weary the reader with other instances of gypsy
word-clipping, but proceed with a brief general survey of the language,
touching upon some interesting features and peculiarities, and give a
few literal examples which have been either addressed to me, or have
come directly under my notice while living among the people.

It will, of course, be understood that the translations are freely
rendered, and that gypsy in common with other languages possesses
peculiarities which must be learned by ear and cannot be adequately
described in writing.

The attainment of fluency in the language is practically
impossible apart from a lengthy sojourn by the aspirant with the
people, and even this, by itself, will be of little use, for his
physical and temperamental qualifications must be such as commend
themselves to those whom he wishes to make his friends, and as
a consequence—instructors. However, under the most favourable
conditions, direct information will very rarely be imparted, so that
the pupil’s progress will largely depend on his powers of absorption
and imitation.

Generally, Romany is spoken with a free and altogether irregular
admixture of English, making it very much more difficult for the
novice to get a good start, for not only are the sandwiched English
words absolutely meaningless to him, in the unlikely event of his
being able to distinguish them, but some of the Romany words having a
similar sound to English have a totally different meaning. As might be
expected, some slight variations in the pronunciation or enunciation
of the English portions occur in different localities; but Romany
may be said to be almost free from provincialisms, so that one who
is conversant with it will have little difficulty in conversing with
gypsies from any part of the country.

[Illustration: “THE WEAKER SEX” (?)]

A curious fact I have noted, is that Romany names for some of the
commonest things, articles in everyday use, have been forgotten by
the gypsies, while the names of some objects for which they have
no occasion, year in, year out, have been retained in all their
original purity. Time and again have I been asked for the Romany
names of certain common objects, and upon a word being supplied,
my interrogator has repeated it again and again to impress it upon
his memory. One of the most fluent speakers I ever met had forgotten
the word for “plate,” while another was unable to say “thank you” in
Romany, albeit each had a very extensive knowledge of the tongue,
including names for many animals, flowers and insects, and was an adept
at word building; with respect to this practice it must be borne in
mind that the gypsy uses the Romany language much in the same way that
a potter uses clay,—he does not alter the character of the material,
but moulds it into an expression of his idea.

Usually he is little worried by genders or any rules of grammar, his
sole purpose being to convey his ideas in the simplest manner possible
in the best Romany he has at command, and he considers it as _his_
language, for the use only of himself and his people, being unwilling
that a gorgio should learn even a few words of it.

“What would be the use of Romany,” said an old man to me, “if sore
dinneleskoe gorgios jinned what mande penned?”

So general is this jealous feeling, that all knowledge of the
language will frequently be disowned, and I have often known gypsies
intentionally misinform non-gypsies by supplying wrong words; for
instance, I heard a gypsy tell an inquiring gorgio that the word
“match” was “yog cosh” in gypsy. Upon analyzing this and finding it
signified “fire stick,” the information would be accepted as correct,
until it was discovered that it also meant a firebrand, and that there
is a very different genuine Romany word denoting this specific match
and nothing else.

The true Romanichal prides himself on his knowledge of the tongue,
which, when well spoken, he designates “deep” Romany, and I have known
real exponents of it in descendants of the old, old gypsies who have
been described, with some little exaggeration, perhaps, as having been
“as black as the ace of spades”; at the same time, I am acquainted with
other families who are much darker-complexioned than many Hindoos,
whose Romany is comparatively meagre.

Apropos of the suspicious reticence of the gypsy, I recollect that
while in the hop gardens, a man came one day to the spot where a gypsy
girl and I were picking, and having heard a little of our conversation,
came nearer and said—

“I say, I should like to learn Romany.”

[Illustration: “BEAUX YEUX.”]

The girl replied, “Oh, would you—why it would take you ever so long.
That’s true, isn’t it?” she added, turning to me for confirmation of
the statement.

Undaunted, he returned to the charge—

“Well, can you tell me the best way to learn?”

“Yes,” replied my companion without a moment’s hesitation, “marry a
gypsy girl,—if she’ll have you.”

Upon looking into this, and reading between the lines, the objection
the gypsies have to the acquirement of their language by any one whom
they do not credit with some degree of blood relationship is quite

On another occasion I happened to be chatting with about half a dozen
gypsies, when a person who was not a gypsy joined the group. This was a
signal for a woman near me to come close and whisper—

“Kekko rokkra it, mush” (don’t talk it), and I discovered later that
the new-comer was one who had picked up a little of the language and
was most anxious to learn more. Although the behaviour of the gypsies
towards the man was politeness itself, no more Romany was spoken until
he was out of earshot.

I have previously had occasion to refer to the direct searching gaze of
the gypsy, that look which makes even an unimaginative Gentile feel as
though he were being turned inside out for inspection. In a fashion,
this is really the case, for the piercing eyes play a principal part
in their owner’s rapid estimate of a new-comer; if his decision be
that the stranger possesses neither consanguinity nor sympathy with
his own race, but is essentially a gorgio, I know of nothing that will
induce the gypsy to impart correct information about his people or
their language,—on the other hand, should he discover some trace of
blood relationship and be assured of fellow-feeling, he will extend the
right hand of fellowship to the whilom stranger, and a mutual knowledge
of the Romany tongue will, as it were, endorse a bond of lasting
friendship, the no-longer stranger will be introduced to, and accepted
by the relatives and friends as a tatcho pal.

[Illustration: “WHEN THE HEART IS YOUNG.”]

In returning to our consideration of the gypsy language it will not,
we think, be difficult to realize that, to a great extent, it is this
aloofness and the clinging to old traditions, tribal laws and customs,
that has not only enabled them to discredit prophecies of extinction,
but has kept them very much alive, with a language little known by
outsiders, and an unshaken belief in their assertion that gypsies,
their language and manner of life will never die out. It is at least
certain that the genuine Romanies do all possible among themselves
to keep their own language in vigorous health, and although many are
illiterate they seize every opportunity to recover lost words, and by
constant repetition commit them to memory.

Notwithstanding the admixture of English with the Romany, it is
astonishing how little the tongue has altered in the centuries during
which it has been spoken and passed on from one generation to another
in this country mainly by word of mouth. Occasionally, however, one may
hear slight variations, which, upon investigation, resolve into the
exact words, or a close resemblance to words having the same meaning
in one or other of the dialects of Romany of the European continent;
instances of this I recall as I write:—

I once heard a child talking to the cat, which he always called a
“matchiko,” instead of the English gypsy word, “matchko.”

One man always addressed me as “mini Rye,” instead of the usual “miro
Rye.” In these cases “matchiko” is the identical word, while “mini”
reminds one of “minrio,” both words being in a continental dialect, but
having the meaning intended by the English users.

The following examples, being set down verbatim as addressed to, or
heard by me, will give a good idea of colloquial Romany of the present

“Miro dado jalled to buty adrey a wongar mine, ta his pals del’d dado
oprey the nok and poggered it; if he hadn’t jalled apré he’d have been

(My father went to work in a coal mine and his workmates hit father on
the nose and broke it; if he hadn’t gone up he’d have been killed.)

“Trin petuls kitchema.”

(Three Horseshoes public-house.)

A man introduced another as “a pal o’ the beng,” which means “brother
of the devil.”

“Rye, dick at the gry’s (gryor) choring cas.”

(Sir, or gentleman, look at the horses stealing hay.)

“He kair’d a lot of wongar acoi, he’s chopped his vardo for another,
mande dick’d to rardi.”

(He made a deal of money here, he has exchanged his van for another, I
saw it this night.)


  “Passing gleams of restless mirth.”


“When sore Romanichals have jalled, this tan’ll be a mullo poov.”

(When all the gypsies have gone away, this place will be like a

“A juva mande knew bute chiv’d her tickno te woddrus drey the vardo,
but the drab-engro penned she’d be mullo if she atched, so her deya
chiv’d her drey the tan.”

(A married woman I knew well put her child to bed in the caravan, but
the doctor said she wouldn’t live if she stayed there, so her mother
put her in the tent.)

“Yeck divvus a mush came te mande ta del’d mande yeck coro levinor,
mande penned, mande kekko pi levinor. Then yo penned, will tuti pi soda
pani or ginger levinor, tuti’s a Romany mush ta mande cams tuti te lei

(One day a man came to me and gave me a pot of ale; I said I did not
drink ale, then he said, will you drink soda water, or ginger beer,
you’re a Romany chal and I desire you to take something.)

“I pen’d paracrow tuti, pen’d kushti divvus, ta jalled oprey o’ drom te
mande’s tan.”

(I thanked him, said good day and went along the road to my tent.)

“Will mande dick tuti collico sorlo?

“I dick’d tuti collico sarla but tuti kekko dick mande.”

(Shall I see you to-morrow morning?

I saw you yesterday evening but you didn’t see me.)

“Here’s to the Romany Rye; he’s kek a cooromengro, but a mush that jins
what we pens. He’s kek a killimengro, but a tatcho Romano.”

(Here’s to the gypsy gentleman; he’s not a fighting man, but knows
just what we say. He’s not a dancing fellow, but one of the gentleman

Among the mongrel gypsies and Chorodies a good deal of slang is
interposed throughout their talk, and they appear to be unable to judge
by the sound of a word whether it be an approximately correct gypsy
word or a slang term, whereas the true gypsy, upon hearing a Romany
word of which he had no previous knowledge, will say it over and over
again, and at last assert, “Yes, that’s right, that’s correct, I can


A half-caste gypsy once attempted to bring discredit on my knowledge
of the Romany tongue by speaking in what he afterwards informed me was
“foreign Romany.” I regret that while I have a distinct recollection
of the jumble of sounds, I am not able to reproduce it. Strangely
enough, this man prided himself on being able to talk in a tongue no
one else understood, and I confess I am still incapable of seeing just
how he or any one else benefited thereby.

Probably it is the “Romany” of the Chorodies and low-lived half-castes
that has induced writers to describe the gypsy tongue in England
as having become sadly mutilated; certainly, such folk present no
exception to the rule that the language of a people becomes, almost
invariably, degraded in the ratio that their life is debased, the
lowest of them seeming even to select inharmonious, and often foul
and repulsive words to express their daily needs. Language would,
indeed, appear to be to them little more than the bark of a dog, or the
neighing of a horse, for, obviously, the melody of pure Romany does
not in the least appeal to them as it undoubtedly does to the true
Romanichal, whose language conjures up visions of trees and birds,
furze-covered commons and heather-clad moors.

Romany is a poetical language, and, as might be expected, gypsy poetry
is not rare. When well recited it is very musical although much of it
does not rhyme; I have, however, found that a mixed Romany audience
invariably prefers such as has both rhythm and rhyme.

One evening towards the end of the hop-picking, I attended a concert
which had been organized for the entertainment of the gypsies, the
artistes for the most part being the Romanies themselves, while the
programme might fittingly be described as “scratch.”

[Illustration: “TATCHEY ROMANIES.”]

The affair was held in a large tent capable of accommodating, say,
a hundred to a hundred and fifty persons. We had a “full house” and
the odour of hops was very perceptible; but this was a trifling
matter which, if noticed at all by the majority of the audience, was
immediately forgotten when the programme was commenced. Names had
been given during the morning by those who were willing to sing,
or otherwise contribute to the amusement or entertainment of the
company. Our platform consisted of a box placed bottom upward, the
tent was illuminated by two hanging lamps, and as there was no charge
for admission, every grade of gypsy society contributed its quota of
audience, among whom were many good-looking girls, a fair sprinkling
of men and a number of women whose beauty had not for several years
been remarkable; there was also present a small contingent of the
rough element, one or two of whom caused a little trouble at times by
perpetrating idiotic practical jokes, one of which was that a youth
would commence to set on fire the coat-tail of some one directly in
front of him; however, these disturbers of the peace were soon noticed,
and, as I had anticipated, were advised in very forcible language to
get outside. As they were discreet enough to withdraw, our programme
subsequently went along very well. One or two humorous songs were sung
by gypsies, and, strangely enough, not the slightest indication of
humour was apparent in either intonation or gesture. Songs of a more
or less sentimental character were the rule, although we had some
rollicking songs towards the end, to which a girl executed a step-dance
on the box until a board gave way.

The singing of the Romany girls was very seductive; whether this was
due to the witchery of their glances, their winning manner, or the
peculiar, weird style of singing, I have not been able to determine;
as a rule, their voices are good, they sing in tune, and usually are
unaccompanied by any instrument.

I am not able to call to mind the titles of all the songs of the
evening, but the following were favourites:—

“Home is home.”

“When the fields are white with daisies.”

“Put my little shoes away.”

“I’ve been lonely since my mother died.”

One small boy announced the title of a poem he was going to recite,
but when mounted upon the box in front of the audience he commenced
with something of so different a nature that the management decided
hastily he had better step down and the audience would forego the
remainder, which, I learned subsequently, was worse than the verse we
heard. The next boy, however, gave us a treat, for he had the voice
of a seraph and sang well,—indeed, I often heard the boy in the hop
fields and could generally track him down by his voice. Some of the
“home-dwellers” also contributed to the evening’s entertainment, one
of them being good enough to bring a gramophone. At last “God save the
King” was sung, and we prepared to depart to our respective vans and

Some of the audience had come from another camp at a little distance,
and as the night was very dark some one voiced their desire for a
lantern. Fortunately, I was able to procure an oil torch designed for
outdoor use, so with this flaming merrily, I led the way at the head of
a band of Romanies. We were a merry party and a good deal of jesting
was indulged in.

Before separating, and while we were in a lane with a steep bank on
each side, some one suggested the Romany dance and the hint was at once
acted upon.

It would seem that from earliest times these people have numbered
amongst them many excellent dancers and singers, and what I now
witnessed demonstrated beyond doubt that their love of song and the
dance is as strong to-day as in the past.

The company disposed themselves in a circle and two or three couples
went into the ring, a song was started and time was kept by the
clapping of hands. Some one said—

“Go it! dance away, it’s early yet, we are all Romanies here and the
kushti Romany Rye’s lelled a moomli so we can dick the dancing.” Then
upon the request “Now, all together, please,” each of the dancers
clasped a partner, and with cheeks touching, the whirling commenced.
Another, then another, fascinated by the movements of the dancers,
entered the ring and took part, either in a species of step-dance or
by executing the mazy whirl. The dance was performed with all the
zest and vivacity of the Italian tarantella, but instead of being
accompanied by such songs as are favoured by some of the peasants who
perform the tarantella,—of which the subjoined insensate couplet is an

  “Fegato fritto e baccalà!
  In ’ccoppo ’na camera a pazzia.”
  (With dried salt cod and liver-fry
  Up in a room to play sky-high)—

lively English songs, into which Romany words were inserted when they
happened to rhyme,—were sung with gusto by the entire company. Had
there been any gorgios present they could not have failed to be amused
and puzzled by these songs, of which the words were a mosaic of poggado
jib sung to dance time.

The play of light as it fell upon the throng, catching here a
kerchief of yellow or other brilliant colour on head or shoulders,
there a necklace of bright red beads, a gold brooch or large
ear-rings,—produced an effect that would have gladdened the heart of
a painter, the _tout ensemble_—even if a little barbaric—being quite
captivating. Swarthy skins seemed still darker by the torchlight, and
as the excitement increased, eyes flashed as only a Romany’s can, and,
one after another, dark-eyed belles flashed by; I could imagine
no term more aptly descriptive of each than their own musical words,
“rinkeny chovahani.”

[Illustration: “DUI KUSHTI KAULO YOCKS.”]

At last, the dance ended almost as suddenly as it had been begun and
the merry party broke up.

It was nearing the time when the final goodbye would be said and all
would again go on the road, so that this was the last occasion during
the hop-picking upon which so general a gathering could take place;
some would, perhaps, meet again in a week or two, others not until next
“hopping.” As there were a number present whom I did not expect to
see again for a good while, I received many a warm hand-shake and the
almost invariable and hearty wish for a “happy journey,” which, from a
gypsy, means not only the journey one is just about to take, but also
implies—“as you travel through life may happiness attend you.”

Any little unpleasant happenings there might have been were forgotten,
and, after a parting song, keepsakes were asked for and exchanged,—a
pretty custom that brings to mind the giver long after each has jalled
opré the drom.


It is a Sunday night, and as I sit beside my fire, rejoicing in the
grateful warmth afforded by the substantial billets, I can hear much
that passes in the tent nearest to mine and in the vicinity of its
fire; moreover, I can just distinguish one person from another in the
group around the blaze which provides a patch of light with a softened
edge against the velvety black background of a moonless night. A
middle-aged woman commences singing the well-known hymn, “What a Friend
we have in Jesus,” while younger members of the family begin to join in.

It is an occasion which one would hardly describe as ludicrous, yet
I am scarcely able to repress a smile, for this is what I hear in
different voices, verbatim and in proper sequence—“What a Friend we
have,—Mother! where’s the soap, I can’t find it,—Mary Ann, be quiet,
will you,—Good night, mush,—Come out o’ the way, Mary, you’ll burn
yourself,—Will you shut up, I ain’t a-goin’ to give you no more
sweets, I’m goin’ to have this one myself,—D——n you, you’d eat me
an’ all if I let you—”

The hymn starts again, at last gets fairly under way and all join in
heartily; when finished, another is gone through, and yet another, all
the family seeming to appreciate the occasion and enjoy the singing.

After due allowance for the faults of these people—the existence of
which I should be more than foolish to deny—and writing off, as it
were, so much for depreciated human nature, there remains a great deal
about them that is straightforward and lovable.

There is, too, a peculiar attractiveness in this singing by the camp
fire before the family retires to rest on this Sunday night.

This absolutely faithful description of the close of a Sunday evening
in a gypsy encampment, of which my own tent formed a part, and the few
observations thereon which I made at the time, afford material for a
good deal of thought. Why—it may be asked—did not these people attend
some place of worship this Sunday evening? As a matter of fact, they
had been asked to attend a church; that they did not, is scarcely
to be wondered at as it was situated at a considerable distance, and
was only to be reached by much groping along dark lanes; moreover,
by staying away they were not subjected to the exasperating sight of
primly dressed worshippers drawing back their skirts to avoid contact
with gypsies who were presumptuous enough to imagine that the Christ of
the well-dressed could be their Christ too.

One may well hesitate to blame them for holding a service of their own
in a church whose walls were the darkness of night, and whose vaulted
roof was Nature’s own. Gypsies may be illiterate,—many are, some are
not,—but all of them who are worthy of the name Romany are keen,
albeit in one direction at least they may be likened to children,—they
are able to put questions which make one pause. More than once have
I been asked by them in slightly differing words, whether “parsons
are paid a lot of money to minister to those only who possess fine
clothes and a good place in society,” also, “whether the people called
Pharisees in the Bible are all dead.” There is no need for chronicling
my replies to these questions, and in passing I will state merely that
I replied truthfully. However, it is with pleasure I turn to the work
of the Church Army Mission, which I have viewed with much interest,
for such work among the gypsies is in many respects of a difficult
character and calls for conscientious workers having a more or less
specialized knowledge and tact of the finest.

It has often been stated that it is almost impossible to get a gypsy to
view religion in its true aspect, and one has but to read, to realize
the amount of trouble experienced by many who have sooner or later
relinquished their endeavours, declaring it impossible to do very much
among them. Having myself had opportunities of becoming familiar with
the ideas of gypsies while living among them, my impressions of the
beliefs and intuitive religion of the Romanies, and some account of
their reception of such efforts for their moral advancement as have
come under my notice may, perhaps, throw a little light on bygone
failures, as well as on the good work now in progress.

To put the matter bluntly, religious symbolism and ceremonial do not
attract the gypsy,—perhaps my meaning will be more definite if I
say—do not appeal to the gypsy as components of, nor as essentials
to religion, and they strike no finer chord in his nature than does
the display in a circus procession. That there exists with them
nevertheless a profound belief in the existence of God as the Maker
of the beautiful earth is evidenced by the fact that while the gypsy
will treat with ridicule the notion that he could be in any way helped
(morally) in this world, or advanced in the next, by bowing according
to man-made rules, so many times to the right or left, a suitably
worded appeal to his better self, pointing him through Nature to
Nature’s God will always hold his attention.

Shall we then adjudge him the less a worshipper, or the less devout,
in that he has a clearer vision of God as the loving Creator of birds
and beasts and every other form of life, and as the painter of the
sunset and the flowers? Again, certain narrow-minded people imagine, or
profess to believe, that those who do not join in public worship, or
in some way proclaim themselves Christians, are of necessity atheists.
It is to be feared that these self-appointed judges would find many
“atheists” among the gypsies; but, such atheists as “love their
fellow-men,” and whose religion is that of the good Samaritan.

[Illustration: “MANDE’S GRY.”]

Many of the gypsies profess to dislike the gorgio or non-gypsy, and
undoubtedly they do so,—the pity of it is that, as a race, they
have had, and still have, cause for it; nevertheless in a number of
instances coming under my notice this fact has not prevented them from
doing a good turn to those in need outside gypsydom.

As I am dealing with facts only, it will, of course, be understood that
I am not endeavouring to depict every gypsy as a saint, nor to persuade
the reader that he will be both gladly and kindly received at every
encampment he may chance upon; but having gained exceptional knowledge
of these people by living amongst them, it would be a contemptible
neglect of duty on my part if I forbore to testify to the many good
points which I know exist in characters that are too often blackened
by prejudiced cowards in different walks of life who feel sure that
their victims have little or no chance of defending themselves. No one
can deny that there are bad Romanichals, but it must also be admitted
that clergymen, barristers, stockbrokers and others are not invariably
paragons of virtue.

Prejudice against gypsies has been referred to, and in a great measure
it may be considered to have resulted from the teaching that all nomads
are knaves as well as vagabonds, which has been ignorantly and, from
time out of mind, instilled into the minds of the young.

In turning now to make a cursory survey of the work being done among
the gypsies by the Church Army Mission, I would point out that I have
“no axe to grind” anyway, but will speak only of what I know, for I
have looked in at their meetings, have had frequent opportunities of
viewing their methods, both as an outsider and as a gypsy too, and have
been one of the gypsy audiences at their lantern lectures. One of such
evening lectures is indelibly impressed on my memory.

[Illustration: A “RINKENY CHI.”]

In endeavouring to convey an idea of the entertainment and its setting,
I must ask the reader to imagine gypsies in ones, twos, threes and
irregular parties—assorted in all respects,—age, sex, size and
condition,—wending their way in the twilight, along a lane thickly
wooded on either hand. It is September, and the teasel heads and
seeded umbels of wild angelica stand out, sentinel-wise, along the
path leading to the camp where the lecture is to be given. At times
it is necessary to pick one’s way very carefully, for darkness is
coming on apace, and now and again the young hazels meet overhead,
while underfoot it is very muddy and slippery. At last, a sort of
clearing is just visible ahead and ever and anon there is wafted by the
gentle breeze, a smell as of cooking proceeding, light from camp fires
beginning, meanwhile, to play hide-and-seek among the branches of the
trees. Upon arriving at the camp one finds that a sheet for the coming
pictures is being affixed to the end of a wooden hut; by the time this
is in position and the lantern erected, a fair audience has assembled;
some are standing, many are squatting on the ground; now our service
commences in the usual way, with prayer and the singing of a hymn.

To-night, a story is read while being illustrated by life-model slides,
and I need scarcely say that its tendency is wholesome, the suppression
of evil, triumph of the right and so on.

It is interesting to hear the occasional remarks of members of the
audience as certain pictures are shown, or particular incidents are

“How I could love a chavi (child) like that, couldn’t you?” one young
woman says to another.

Now, an older woman remarks to a friend—

“Yes, that’s true, I know drink will do that, for I’ve seen it.”

One feels that the story, simple as it is, touches the hearts of the
listeners, and cannot but have an uplifting tendency.

I am glad to note the total absence of that “button-holing” of the
individual which some seem to think so necessary in work of this
nature. Gentle, straightforward, persuasive, heart-to-heart talk may,
and probably will, win a Romanichal in time, but button-holing—never!
I almost tremble to think of any zealous young man who adopts this
method with a gypsy; few care to be button-holed in this way, but to
try it with a gypsy is to make an enemy.

Now, all join heartily in the closing hymn, and there can be no doubt
as to their enjoyment of it, for they sing it over again and again,
so bringing to a close a gathering that would probably be regarded
by an outsider as a strange meeting of strange people, and yet there
is withal a fascination and charm about the whole affair, a sense
of something to be thankful for that one fails to experience at a
fashionable gathering.

[Illustration: “NO PLACE LIKE HOME.”]

The well-known one-time hatred of all churches by the Romanies, and
their dislike to adopt any custom of the gorgio would almost suffice to
account for the gypsies having their own marriage ceremony, but when it
is borne in mind that gypsies were—ought I not to say, are?—looked
at askance by church-goers, and are obviously regarded with more scorn
than sympathy, and that the gypsy knows this, it will be evident that
the mission worker has need of infinite tact, and must be able to grasp
and appreciate the traditional beliefs and inherited distrust of the
gypsy, as well as sympathize in the difficulties and temptations which
confront and beset him, if he hopes to find eventually that his work
has not been in vain.

As the most direct route to a gypsy parent’s heart is usually by
way of the child, the work of the mission in giving the children,
whenever possible, an elementary school education and at the same time
instilling correct ideas of right and wrong, and teaching them simple
truths, must in the nature of things eventually influence for good the
lives of both children and parents; meantime the self-denying workers
obey the injunction—not to be weary in well-doing, trusting to the
assurance that—in due season they will reap if they faint not.

Many a Romany wedding is still celebrated in the old, old way; but
there are increasing numbers each year who are married at some
recognized place of worship, thanks to the efforts of the mission
workers, who point out to them that although they may after their
own ceremony remain faithful to each other through life, as is almost
invariably the case, it would be better to be married at a place of
worship, or otherwise in accordance with the law of this country.

To see a gypsy really and thoroughly uncomfortable one must behold him
on his wedding day, should he elect—as occasionally he does—to wear,
for once, a high collar. Accustomed to the kerchief around his neck,
the wearing of a starched collar must, to him, feel much like being
put in irons, and although he survives the ordeal, it must remain an
agonizing memory to him ever after.

As the work of the Church Army Mission gives but a side-light upon
Romany life, I must not dwell on it beyond adding that their workers
go with the gypsies, not merely during the fruit-picking or the
hop-picking, but are always among them whenever there appears to be the
most pressing need or favourable opportunity for their services, and
therein lies the secret of any success they may have had.

“To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late,” and despite
the postponement of the day of reckoning by living in the open air in
a rational way, Romany life is not exempt from paying the debt to
Nature, and sooner or later the sojourner in gypsy land must inevitably
have some saddening experiences.

One evening I was asked to sit up with friends whose father had just
passed over to the majority. As I had known the old man in life very
well and was desirous of showing my sympathy with the family in any way
possible, I acceded to the request.

The coffin was placed in a tent at a short distance from the rest
of the camp, by its side stood a tiny clock recording the few hours
remaining ere the body would be committed to the ground, the little
chamber being lit by a lantern suspended from one of the tent rods. Two
were keeping watch until midnight, when they would arouse two others
to take their place until dawn. The autumn night was chilly, so a good
fire was made and I sat until after ten o’clock with the watchers,
until the moon, which was almost at the full, appeared well over the
tree-tops, for we were in the depth of the forest; all around, and
up to the little clearing in which the camp was situated, were large
beeches and oaks whose foliage was quite still excepting when a slight
puff of wind sent a shiver through the leaves.

The whole scene was weird in the extreme,—the tent with its silent
occupant, the watchers at a short distance by the fire whose lambent
flames peopled the solitude with moving shadowy forms,—little
imagination being needed for one to fancy them playing ghostly
hide-and-seek among the trees,—and looking down upon it all was the
harvest moon.

I was present at the funeral next day, when the ceremony was most
impressive, every one behaving with the utmost decorum. On this
particular occasion there were none of the spectacular demonstrations
of grief that at some gypsy funerals resemble the Eastern wailing.
The personal belongings of the deceased were afterwards burned, as is
customary, but I believe none of them were buried with him.

These obsequies vary with different families, some of whom religiously
carry out traditional rites, which others seem altogether to ignore.

Many readers will doubtless recollect that, but a few years since,
when a certain gypsy died, his van was burnt, crockery smashed, and
metal pots and pans were battered so as to be useless. Occurrences of
this kind appear, however, to be less frequent than in the past, when
relatives of the departed gypsy sometimes reduced themselves to a
condition of absolute poverty by faithfully carrying out this ceremony.
In such cases, remonstrance, especially by a non-gypsy, would be quite
useless, and no reply would be vouchsafed, except that “it is the way
of the Romanies.”

There are certain practices of the gypsies which by many may be
regarded as a “trifle shady,” one of such is the vocation of fortune
telling. It is pretty generally known that—as has already been
pointed out—fortune telling as a profession has for years been
illegal; nevertheless, it is still practised, and at races and similar
concourses of people one may—to quote an old song: “... meet with the
smiling gypsy maid, your fortune true to tell,” but the modern, smiling
gypsy maid is not to be caught napping, and any circular, business
card or booklet she may issue to her public will be found, almost
invariably, to be so carefully worded that her profession does not
come “within the meaning of the Act.” I know a gypsy who does a good
business in this direction with “the quality.” She informed me that the
game paid well. I inquired what was her usual fee and she replied—

“Posh koraunas you dick,” which may be translated—Half-crowns, you

It was in the autumn that I last saw this woman, and there was little
business doing save at a few fairs. We sat at the camp fire one night,
and—to use an expressive colloquialism—“talked shop,” discussing
gypsy arts, including the telling of fortunes and the books purporting
to teach it; usually these books treat mainly of palmistry, and have a
few diagrams of the principal lines of the hand with “explanations.”

Even at the risk of repeating some of my previous observations I must
not omit to give a summary of our exchange of views and certain of my
own deductions.

Much of the ordinary fortune teller’s knowledge of her client’s
circumstances appears to be inferential,—cast of features,
conformation and condition of hands, and other characteristics being
rapidly absorbed, but inferential reasoning alone will not explain
many a gypsy pronouncement. I will give an instance or two which aptly
illustrate this:—

Quite late one Saturday night I found that, contrary to my
expectations, the succeeding day would be quite free from matters
needing my presence at home, therefore I decided, when too late to
communicate my intention to any one, to visit some gypsy acquaintances
who would be encamped—I presumed—at a place some twenty-five
miles from my home. Starting early on the Sunday morning, I arrived
eventually at the camping ground, where I found the families I had in
mind late on the previous night. After the usual greetings, I remarked—

“You don’t seem much surprised to have me come upon you suddenly in
this fashion.”

“No, we’re not,” said one of the women; “we knew you was a-coming—your
spirit’s been here.”

Upon another occasion I came upon a Romany woman, who, with several
children and the inevitable lurcher, awaited at their caravan the
return of her husband who had gone into the village near with a basket
of goods. Neither of us had ever seen or heard anything of the other,
and yet within five minutes of entering into conversation with her she
told me she could tell that I was not a native of the district and that
my ancestors had lived in quite another part of the country, which she
described. This occurred as part of a friendly chat, no question of
fortune telling or the handing over of money being thought of on either
side,—the uncanny part of the affair being that her statements were
quite correct.

Telepathy may account for much, but I believe the gypsy employs it
unconsciously, and there is no reason why this faculty should not
be much more fully developed among the true Romanies, who are of
Indian origin, than among, say, the Anglo-Saxons. With the advance
of civilization it would seem that the faculty of telepathic
intercommunication decreases, for we find it highly developed among
certain Indian races, and almost non-existent in the forefront of
civilization. It is not contended that any one, gypsy or otherwise,
can pierce the veil obscuring the future of every one of us, but it
cannot be denied that the true gypsy seems to be able in some way to
gain a more accurate idea of the probable, than the average non-gypsy.
Moreover, the average gypsy has himself a belief that certain specially
favoured individuals of his race have limited powers of seeing into
the future, even I have been asked quite seriously at various times
to “dukker the vast” of some gypsy or other, and have been considered
unkind in refusing to do so.

[Illustration: “LIFE’S EVENTIDE.”]

I asked my friend how she dressed at Boronashimescrutan, and was
informed that she put a kerchief over her head, another upon her
shoulders, and was then ready for business. She said further that
she made a little money by talking Romany, as many of the Rawnies
from the Boro Gav were willing to pay something just to satisfy their
curiosity by hearing it spoken. To my remark that Romany was a very
pleasant-sounding language, she heartily assented.

During our chat, the husband had been occupied with what is known
as “chiving tulipen prey the chokkars.” He held a boot in one hand,
turning it here and there to the fire to get it thoroughly warmed, then
with the other hand he applied a large lump of suet which was stuck
on a stick, repeatedly warming the boot and rubbing on the fat until
the leather appeared saturated; after treating the other boot in like
manner, he rubbed and kneaded the leather to work the grease thoroughly
into it, so making it quite waterproof and supple. He politely handed
over the fat for me to treat my boots, for all of us in that camp had
worn wet boots for at least two days.

Later with a preliminary “did I ever show you this?” he produced for
my inspection an extraordinarily massive and evidently old silver
watch-chain of a curb pattern. He informed me that originally it
belonged to, and was worn by, a gypsy—long since dead, for whom it
had been made specially, and to his instructions,—certainly it was
the largest and heaviest watch-chain I have ever seen, curiously so
in fact, and I persuaded him to allow me to weigh it. I found that it
turned the scale at one pound five ounces avoirdupois and I noticed it
was stamped on every piece; it bore signs of having been worn, probably
for many years, and I mentally pictured a man with the aldermanic
stomach needed to display it properly. Altogether it seemed the kind
of appendage one could not lose, for upon becoming detached from the
person the loss of weight would be immediately noticed. I have often
wondered if the original watch partook of the huge proportions of the

Before finally dismissing the theme of fortune telling, I feel that as
my gypsy friends have afforded me unique opportunities for studying the
question from their point of view, I have at the same time been able to
bring my unbiassed judgment to bear from the position of an outsider,
and I owe it to the Romanies to state some of their reasons for
thinking the law in the matter deals hardly with them, while I cannot
but admit the good intention to suppress all proved attempts to obtain
money by false pretences.

It cannot be denied that the Western nations are unable to fathom the
mysticism of the Far East, neither can they explain the means by which
Orientals—who are uncivilized in our meaning of the term—receive
and transmit information without the aid of modern science but with
greater facility and rapidity. Again, some of the Native Indian races
seem to have entirely under control influences of which we of the
West know nothing, or to which we perhaps give vague names to cover
our ignorance. If, to this, we add the fact that in sheer trickery,
deception and sleight of hand, the Oriental has no equal, we have a
combination which must be regarded as in some degree the heritage of
the Romany, and sweeping condemnation of the practices of such people,
who are not understood, is likely to be unjust. Always, there have
been, of course, gypsies whose practices would be based on trickery
and deception,—always, too, there have been others, who have in no
small degree inherited the occult powers of their ancestors, and who
would scorn the deceits of their humbler and less scrupulous brethren;
the former class have no better defence of their fortune telling
than—that they must live somehow, and if people can be found who
are silly enough to believe what they tell them, they are perfectly
justified in taking their money for it; the latter class, however,
when practising fortune telling exercise a profound knowledge of human
nature, and consciously or unconsciously bring into operation powers
of which we have little or no conception, and whose pronouncements are
no more intentional swindling than are those of a phrenologist, and
one cannot but respect some of the arguments they advance in their

  They seldom foretell ill-luck,—usually they predict a happy
  marriage, accession to wealth, long life and a good time

  They contend that this is no more reprehensible than the lie
  which passes one’s lips when he says to a friend who is very
  ill, or may be apparently on the road to recovery, “Oh, you
  certainly look so much better than you did yesterday,” knowing
  the while that the sufferer is more seriously ill than on the
  previous day.

  That surely it is well to foretell a good time, even when the
  seer has no prescience in the matter, so that the anxious
  one may be cheered by the thought of the happiness lying just
  ahead, although it be always just ahead, as to many it too
  often is until with their latest breath it becomes a glorious

Better this, anyhow, than the uncharitable pessimism of a writer on
this very subject of the last century, who, after characterizing
everything a gypsy might say as a “stark lie” said, “And why should we
deceive ourselves with gay and splendid expectations?”

After all, whatever may be our individual leanings in these
matters,—the things that really count may be best gauged by the words
of Him Who said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of
these, ye have done it unto Me.”

Once in the hop country I heard a child at a little distance crying
distressfully as though in pain; before I could reach her, a somewhat
rough-looking gypsy fellow forestalled me, and, after gently
endeavouring to soothe the child, he called to a woman near for a piece
of rag,—some one had evidently thrown a sharp stone which had cut,
rather badly, the face of the child, causing it to bleed freely. The
woman, seeing that a piece of linen was necessary, at once ripped off
a piece of the blouse she was wearing, applied the inner side to the
child’s face and bound up the wound. After it had ceased crying she led
it away to its mother in a distant part of the field. The torn blouse
seemed to be of no consequence,—a little child was in trouble and she
had done what she could.


It is at any time interesting to meet in _propriâ personâ_ either the
original, or an exact counterpart of a character with whom one has
hitherto been acquainted only through the observations of a third
person, and it has been my good fortune to meet one such in a certain
Mr. Petulengro, a name, by the way, that is pretty well known as the
Romany equivalent of the surname Smith. Almost every one who mixes at
all with gypsies will come across a number of Smiths, especially in
the southern and eastern counties, but he whom I have in mind is one
of the old school, and, so far as identity alone is concerned, might
have stepped out of the pages of a writer upon gypsy life of the last
century. He is a man of medium height, with typical Romany features,
and may often be seen wearing a black great-coat having two silver
buttons—each about one and a half inches in diameter—near the top. He
is comparatively well-to-do, and is in possession of a caravan which
cost something well over a hundred pounds to build. Until recently, he
and I had somehow always managed to keep beyond hand-shaking distance,
although we were known to each other through mutual friends. When at
last I met him, he said as we shook hands—

“Pal from Nevi Wesh, I knew it as soon as I saw you.”

Thereupon he introduced me to his relatives, including, apparently,
almost every one in that camp. After these preliminaries he spread a
sack for me at his fireside and we had a long talk together. He spoke
“deep” Romany and acquainted me with a number of words which I believe
had not been printed, and informed me that not long previously he had
talked with a gentleman speaking an Indian language who understood most
of what he said in Romany, while he was able to get at the meaning of a
lot of the words the gentleman used, adding that he counted up to six
almost the same as in Romany, but for seven, eight and nine he said—as
nearly as I can remember—“sart, arth, now.” “Doesn’t that,” said my
friend, “seem to prove that the Romanies came from India at one time,
else where did we get the language? Some of our folks say, ‘No, we are
all English only we don’t speak the same tongue,’ but don’t you believe
it, Rye. Did you ever see a real thoroughbred Englishman or woman as
dark as my folks, or with hands and feet as well made and as small as
ours? No, my pal! hoquepens like that won’t do. Besides, you can always
tell a true gypsy by his eye, it’s different somehow from the gorgios.
I’m not ‘overstruck’ by the way the gorgios speak to each other
either,—they say—hello, Smith! hello, Jones! and so on in the rudest
way. Did you ever hear anything better than the gypsy way of calling
one another pal for brother and pen for sister? After all we are really
brothers and sisters.”

“And would you,” I asked, “call a gorgio a pal?”

“No!” he replied, “and you know it. A gorgio’s a gorgio, and a chal’s a
chal, and always will be.”

“But, sometimes a gypsy chi marries a Gentile,” I continued, as I
wished to know how he regarded such unions.

“That’s true,” he admitted, “but if a tickno o’ mande’s got romm’d to
a gorgio, he or she wouldn’t get help if they wanted it—at least,” he
added hastily, as though the vision of one of his children being in
dire need while he stood aloof was perhaps not to be thought of, “not
as they would be if they kept true. The gypsy law, as you well know,
is, that if sickness or trouble of any kind overtakes our folk—_our_
folk, I said, we club together—even if it means parting with the last
pasherro—and help, for God alone knows when any of us may want help,
but, gorgios,—ugh!”

“One would almost suppose you don’t like them,” I remarked with a smile.

“Like ’em!” he exclaimed. “Me like ’em! Well, I’ll tell you what
happened to me; it’s years ago now, but I remember it as well as if it
was yesterday:—

“It was not very long after I was married, and my wife and I were very
happy in our wedding living-wagon. We travelled all over the country
and once or twice into Wales. Well, just about the time my eldest was
born the drab-engro told us we’d better atch a bit till the wife was
well again, so we found a snug corner a little way from a town and
expected to be left in peace. I got permission from the owner of a bit
of waste land, to stay a few weeks, and he charged me a few pence a
week as rent. This land was next to a kind o’ small park belonging to
a gentleman who was one of the grumpy sort. One day, he put his ugly
face over the fence and said to me—

“‘What are you doing here?’

“I told him as politely as I could that I was airing a clean shirt over
my fire to be ready for putting on that evening.

“‘Did you hear what I said?’ he bawled out.

“‘Certainly,’ said I, ‘and I answered you, didn’t I?’

“Lor’, you should ha’ seen his face, it looked like a red suet pudding
with a moustache on it.

“‘You—you insolent gypsy,’ he spluttered, ‘I’ll have you moved, you
dirty fellow, you and your dirty van.’ After this he went away, and,
thinks I to myself—If I can manage it there’ll be some fun, so I went
next day to a lawyer and asked if the land was for sale where I had my
van. He promised to look into the matter for me, and in a day or two
I saw him again, and he told me the owner would sell it at such and
such a price. I found I had enough money, so I bought it and the lawyer
attended to the transfer all right. You understand, this was all done
on the quiet, and shortly afterwards my disagreeable neighbour finding
that I stayed there in defiance of his threats, took legal proceedings
to get rid of me as a nuisance. We had a rare set-to, I can tell you,
and I won the day, for so sure was he of settling a poor gypsy that he
had no solicitor to act for him and conducted his case himself; but my
lawyer proved that the land belonged to me and got some respectable
people of the neighbourhood to witness that we were always well
behaved. There really wasn’t any need for him to complain at all, for
we were always a quiet lot, but it sort o’ got his back up, I suppose,
to think that a traveller should come so near to his little estate.

“However, we’ve stopped there many a winter since and have scarcely
ever seen the man, he may be dead by this time for all I know. It’s a
strange world, pal, ain’t it?”

Somewhat later my friend informed me he had arranged to meet a few pals
at a certain kitchema to discuss a few things over a friendly coru
levinor, so that unless I accompanied him, which he would very much
like me to do, we should be obliged to part as it was about time he set
out. Hoping to get a glimpse of some new phase of Romany life I agreed
to go with him.

Outside the inn he introduced me as a Romany Rye, and upon other
gypsies inside the house calling to us we went in and joined the
company. As I am not a drinker of levinor (ale) I called for a modest
“stone ginger” to justify my presence in the house, and so found myself
in the midst of a jovial gathering of Romanies. Glasses were filled and
my friend, holding his aloft, proposed, in my honour—

“Gentlemen, the health of our friend the Romany Rye.”

As this was said in Romany, I felt bound to reply in that tongue. I
guessed from the puzzled expression on the face of the landlord that
he could make little of what was said, and my impression was confirmed
when one of the gypsies—looking at me—jerked his thumb over his
shoulder in the direction of the man and said “baulo-mui” (pig-face),
an expressive, albeit uncomplimentary remark.

A good while before the familiar “Time, gentlemen, time” sounded,
the company had become decidedly merry; the frequent thirst-slaking
attempts of a few had carried them even beyond this stage and they had
become quarrelsome. A heated argument was going on at one end of the
room, and a disturbance seemed imminent as “sides” were formed for and
against some motion. I was now asked—

“Rye, which do you stand up for?”

This was a poser as I was not particularly anxious to stand up for
either side; fisticuffs is not at all a strong point with me, besides
I had friends in either faction, and for obvious reasons had no desire
whatever to make enemies; here my habit of a rapid decision stood me
in good stead, and with tactful deference to their known love of fair
play I explained that I really did not know the nature of the matter
in dispute and would be glad to be informed. I soon learned that the
disturbance arose from a difference of opinion as to how long it would
take to paint a vardo (caravan) properly. One man held that he could
paint one as well as a carpenter [_sic_] in three days,—a statement
which some agreed with and others disputed; eventually an appeal was
made to me to settle the matter, and I did it in this manner.

“What does it matter,” I asked, “how long it takes to paint, if, when
it is done, you can sell it to a dinnelo gorgio for des bars more than
it is worth?”

“Right you are, Rye!” came the immediate and uproarious response.
“You’re a Romany chal right enough—shake.” A general, hearty
hand-shake brought the incident to a happy conclusion.

On the following evening I again saw friend Petulengro. After the usual
greetings he made a proposal to me, which, as he had not the least idea
that circumstances prevented my embracing his offer, was, to say the
least of it, extremely kind. Said he—“Rye, mande’ll del tute a vardo
for desh ta dui trins ta yeck bars, and trust you same as I would any
other pal; I’ll give you a year to pay it in, pay any time you like in
the year.”

I thanked him for the generous offer, telling him I was not just then
in need of a caravan. As my tent was at some distance I bade him good
evening early in order to reach home before darkness set in, but before
I left he called one of his children who was preparing for bed, and
said to her—

“Now, my chavi, you listen to me,—this mush is a Romany chal,—what do
you say?” The tot then put her tiny brown hand in mine and said, “God
bless you, good night.”

“That’s what she’s been taught to say to all her gypsy brothers,” said
Petulengro, “and she treats you the same, you see.”

By the time I was well on the way home it was almost dark. I met
several gypsy fellows returning to their camp, and upon recognizing
me they gave me “kushti rardi” in passing (Romany equivalent to good

I have a very distinct recollection of that night, for two or three
horses had a fancy for grazing close to my tent,—so close were they
that at times it seemed as though they would bite my pillow. There was
nothing for it but to drive them off. Scarcely, however, had I settled
down again to sleep when the chump, chump of horses grazing quite close
to my head again awakened me to full consciousness.

I discovered next morning that these horses had somehow got loose, and
visited more tents than mine during the night. I wondered whether the
existence of a stack of prime hay at no great distance, having only a
flimsy protecting rail, had suggested possibilities to the owners of
these renegades.

One man had thrown his boots at them, and found in the morning that
one boot had gone into a ditch. Another—a man who slept in a small
and rather “lightly sprung” caravan—told me he awoke some time in the
night owing to some one shaking the van; half-awake, he asked what was
the matter, but, as the only reply was an extra vigorous shake, he
woke up properly and looked out, to find three loose horses around,
one of which was using a back corner of his van as a scratching-post;
thereupon he drove off all the horses in the direction of the haystack
in the next field. I shrewdly suspect that although he omitted to
mention it, he had an idea that the subsequent manœuvres of the horses
would lead to an interesting situation between the owners of the
horses and him of the haystack. With daylight upon the scene I saw the
horses pulling out large mouthfuls of hay from the stack, and later,
the wrathful owner with a pocket-book in hand—apparently assessing
damages. It is a suggestive fact that the next and subsequent nights
passed quietly, all the horses remaining properly tethered.

Having arranged with Mr. Petulengro that I would look in and have tea
on a certain evening if I did not run against him in the meantime, I
set out from my tent early in the afternoon of the day appointed so
that I could take the walk leisurely. Finding later I had gained time
by cutting across hop fields that had been picked, and was likely to
arrive at the neighbouring camp before I was due, I rested upon a wood
pile and was thoroughly lazy for half an hour or so. Just before me
was a wood of young oaks whose continuity was scarcely broken by an
occasional stiffly erect pine, but which otherwise fell softly away
to the valley below,—upon my right was a tall hedge of maple, whose
foliage was beginning to take on an autumnal richness. The silence was
almost complete, perfect it certainly was, for the twittering of tits
overhead and the nearer music of grasshoppers seemed but to accentuate
the general stillness. I scarcely know if I fell asleep, but I became
suddenly conscious that the evening mist was rising and that I must
bestir myself.

Possibly, the voices I could hear had broken in upon my dreams, for
the noise of men, women and children calling out one to another now
increased to a general hubbub in the distance, for all had been “called
off,” and work in the fields for the day was over. A few minutes
later and animated groups troop along the lane towards the camping
ground, where a further few minutes suffice to bring fires to life and
preparations into full swing for a well-earned tea.

I can scarcely imagine any man—if, indeed, he be a “live” man in the
expressive sense of the American term—who could look upon such a
scene as confronted me when I approached the camp, groups of merry,
hard-working people, mostly Romanies, of both sexes and of almost all
ages, in groups around the fires, living the simple, open-air life upon
just what they work hard for—without thinking that there is something
vouchsafed to these people that he would give much to call his own.

My friend had called out to me as I passed his field, and pointed out
a convenient gap in the hedge, by making use of which I saved a few
minutes’ walk and soon joined the family at the meal. Our talk touched
upon a great variety of topics—from lame horses to chills on the
stomach—until I managed to shunt it on to a subject in which I was
really interested,—the reputed efficacy of charms. The matter had
scarcely been broached when my host produced from his pocket a small
flattish bone, and, handing it to me for close inspection, said—

“That’s a very good thing to carry on you; it’s a bone that comes from
the side of a sheep’s skull. I’ve been told that if it were not for
that particular bone, a sheep would be able to talk.”[5]

I was unable to get a photograph of this interesting luck-bringer
but made a drawing of it, the actual bone being about two inches
in length. It was now my turn to explain the “virtue” of the brooch
being worn by Mrs. Petulengro. She stated she had it given to her and
was told it was lucky, but knew no more about it. I was very much
interested in this ornament, for, as I told them, I had read about it
in a book concerning Spanish gypsies, but had not previously seen one
of them (Fig. 10, page 112). According to the writer of this book,
these charms were suspended from the necks of children by means of a
cord braided from the hair of a black mare’s tail, and was considered a
safeguard against the ill-effects of the evil eye. This brooch agreed
in every particular with those described, being of stag’s horn mounted
with silver, but it appeared to have been always worn as a brooch and
not suspended in the manner narrated. I reminded my friends that in
Egypt cowrie shells were worn as a charm for the same purpose. Here Mr.
Petulengro exclaimed excitedly—

“Why! I know some one who has a watch-chain made of those shells, only
they are silver. I’ll show you the chain to-morrow if I can find the
man who wears it” (Fig. 11, page 112).

I noted this, and later made the following extract from “The Modern
Egyptians,” which in this connection will not be without interest:—

“Shells called cowries are especially considered preservatives against
the evil eye; and hence, as well as for the sake of ornament, they are
often attached to the trappings of camels, horses and other animals,
and sometimes to the caps of children. Such appendages are evidently
meant to attract the eye to themselves, and so to prevent observation
and envy of the object they are designed to protect.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Petulengro, “can you tell me what this is?” as she
handed to me a circular brooch having a loose silver coin mounted in it.

“Yes,” I replied, “it is a piece of Turkish money.”

“What are the marks all over it?” she asked further. “Are they writing?”

I told her they were, and again she questioned:—

“Are there people who can read it?”

I assured her that there were, but still she was curious, and wished
to know if I could read it. I had to confess that I could not and I
believe the admission gave her real pleasure, for had she known what it
signified, I am sure it would have lost much of its attractiveness.
Similarly, the amulets worn by the Arabs contain, sometimes, extracts
from the Koran, at others a meaningless jumble of words, which, on
account of the impossibility of attributing any rational meaning to
them, are considered to act as charms. Evidently the cryptic nature of
the characters on the coin appealed in like manner to Mrs. Petulengro.

Nothing dies harder than superstition,—as a matter of fact it appears
upon investigation that superstitions are _not_ dying. If it were not
impossible to arrive at exact knowledge of the grip superstitious
beliefs have on all grades of society, we should probably find that
while superstition _en masse_ seems to be undergoing revision,—is
being brought up to date as it were,—civilization with its vaunted
“march of intellect” and leavening effect of culture, seems powerless
to eradicate the belief that particular ornaments or objects guard
their possessors from certain real or imaginary evils.

The poorest gypsies share this fatuous idea with our “old nobility”
who have faith in mascots in the shape of a grotesque figure for the
radiator of their motor-car, or some strange object carried or worn on
the person, and the superstitious of all ranks of society who carry
“charms” on their watch-chains, “lucky” pigs, wish-bones, stones,
elephants, dogs, monkeys and what not on chatelaines or elsewhere about
themselves or their belongings. A well-to-do person may wear a silver
or gold charm studded with diamonds, while the poor person carries
instead, a piece of coral, a bit of bone, portion of a bat, brass
ornaments or anything beside—any one being just as likely to bring
good luck, or as potent in warding off evils, as the other—_chacun à
son goût_.

The Romanichal, like many another, is superstitious but does not
advertise the fact. Chary of confessing to a belief in the efficacy
of charms, sometimes even to the extent of untruthfully denying it,
his attitude renders it somewhat difficult to estimate the extent
to which such beliefs obtain among the people, and it is only when
living in their midst and enjoying their fullest confidence that one
is able to obtain reliable information on the matter. Even under the
most favourable conditions it is not easy to ascertain whether this
or that belief is distinctly gypsy and of Eastern origin, or has been
appropriated from one or other of the Western nations. In any case it
is not more ridiculous for an illiterate gypsy to consider the wearing
of a mole’s foot a safeguard against rheumatism, or that a brass brooch
or other ornament in the form of a human hand will bring good luck to
the wearer, than for an educated man of good position to decorate his
motor-car with a “Teddy bear” or a “gollywog,” believing all the while
that it will obviate skidding, or will carry him scathless through
a collision. Again, I have yet to discover among the tales of the
Romanies something as senseless as the non-gypsy stories of The Devil’s
Dyke near Brighton, and of the miraculous beam in the Priory church
of Christ-church, or the rustic belief that the immature forms of the
fungus _Phallus impudicus_ are really eggs laid by ghosts.

I found that the Petulengro couple were not exceptions to the rule that
gypsies are well versed in a crude plant lore, including preparations
of or from wayside and other vegetation, and their use in curing simple
ailments. There can be no doubt whatever that many common complaints
yield quite as readily to the vegetable drugs and simple treatment of
gypsies, as to the mineral productions of the chemist. Gypsy methods
of making up their prescriptions may be rough and ready, but, provided
they steer clear of the powerful alkaloids—and invariably they
do—there is at least little to fear, especially if the patients have
gypsy constitutions to begin with.

Eyebright, _Euphrasia officinalis_, is used by them for inflamed
eyes—a decoction of the plant being made and the eyes fomented

Ground ivy, _Nepeta glechoma_, is also used for a like purpose. The
lichen _Sticta pulmonacea_ has been used by rustics as a specific in
cases of consumption, but I have not known it to be used by gypsies, a
fact which I think worth recording in their favour, for a decoction of
this lichen is just about the nastiest-tasting “remedy” on earth. Being
of an inquiring turn of mind I once made up some of this medicine,
and for no reason but to gratify my curiosity, I sampled it—once. I
have never since doubted its efficacy, as a consumptive or any other
sufferer for whom it was prescribed would either recover immediately or
would gladly die to avoid taking a second dose.

The mention of plants used for the preparation of eye lotions reminds
me of a curious expression used by a half-bred gypsy. I was telling her
of a lady who suffered a good deal with an inflamed eye; the gypsy
advocated eyebright or ground ivy as a cure, “for you know,” said she,
“you can’t be too careful with the eye, it’s such a precious limb.”

The gypsy faculty for using words of similar sound but of quite
different signification from those intended, or of curious, home-made
words, or inapplicable terms, is often productive of very whimsical
statements, as the following extracts from my contemporary notes

... A gypsy, charged with using disgusting language in public, made a
pathetic appeal to the magistrate against conviction for the offence as
he was “certain sure he never used no unseen (obscene) language.”

... A gypsy girl, looking at a photograph in which the more distant
figures in a group were somewhat indistinct, remarked “that she could
hardly concern (discern) who it was standing there.”

... Upon mentioning the bombardment by the Germans of Rheims Cathedral
to a gypsy, he expressed great indignation, and added, “that was a
lovely church, I’ve seen a picture of it, it was all tattooed beautiful
down the front.”

... “My sister’s gone to the dissumption hospital,” said a gypsy girl
who evidently meant “consumption.”

... After asking a favour, an old gypsy woman, wishing to make it
understood that she was in no great hurry, said, “I ain’t in no caddle
about it.”

... The widow of a gypsy who had just died, asked a male friend if he
would kindly act as a bearer at the funeral. The man, willing to help
and anxious to condole, replied, “Oh yes, please God, I’ll be glad
to,”—an unfortunate way of expressing his sympathy, for it admits
equally of the interpretation that he would be glad of the opportunity
to put the deceased out of the way.

... “Well, how do you like this (wet) weather?” I asked of an old gypsy

“Oh, my dear,” she replied, “it’s awful, we’re reg’lar soakened out.”

... Upon one occasion when photographing at a gypsy camp, one of the
men, who had obviously spent a good deal of that day in endeavouring to
quench a troublesome thirst and was in consequence rather quarrelsome,
broke in upon the scene, exclaiming, “You can’t come here and take my
kid’s fortygraph without commission (permission), so I tells yer.”

Very curious terms may be heard—more especially among the half-bred
gypsies and Chorodies—for describing complaints or bodily ailments.
I am inclined to think that gypsies escape much illness by reason of
their outdoor life; they also take care of themselves to a certain
extent; herein I allude to genuine Romany folk, for they avoid wet
clothes and sitting directly upon damp ground, beside taking other
reasonable precautions with regard to health. Chorodies, however,
appear usually to take little, if any, care, and as a consequence may
often be heard to complain of rheumatism. A gypsy will not, haphazard,
drink any sort or condition of water, but a Chorodie seems to drink
anything that looks like it. At times, a gypsy will, of course, be
compelled either to go without or to drink water that an American would
describe as “tough stuff”; in such case he almost invariably boils the
water well before using it, so avoiding all ill-effects. At various
times during my wanderings with the Romanies I have been obliged to
drink water which would be better described as “half and half” mud and
water, rather than as the product of the crystal spring, but even this,
after being well boiled and made into tea, lost what might be termed
its individuality and no ill-effects ensued.

The Romanichal—in bygone days—had a fair knowledge of vegetable
poisons, and methods of preparing them for use—and misuse—but the
knowledge would appear to have lapsed, for nowadays one never hears of
poison being used by gypsies, either to drab baulo or to convert an
enemy. This kind of thing seems to belong to the obscurity of the “good
old days,” when men were put to death as heretics, and others were hung
for stealing or even for being gypsies.

[Illustration: See page 249]


Gypsies, being human, must of necessity obtain in some way the
wherewithal to sustain life. As the earning of bread by the sweat of
the brow is not by any means the curse some people try to make it, it
_may_ be logical to refuse a helping hand while pretending to think
that gypsies should consider themselves fortunate in that they have
to work hard—with a capital H for the most part—to obtain barely
sufficient to keep together body and soul, but such sophistries are
never convincing or conclusive to those who regulate their work in the
world by the golden rule.

There are scores of gypsies to-day who would gladly learn a “gypsy
trade,” i.e. some handicraft that can be learned and plied without
antagonism to the nomadic instincts of the people, such as, say, the
work of a general whitesmith, or working cutler,—toy-making and so on.

There are, of course, horse-dealers, roundabout or show proprietors and
other Romanies who are comparatively wealthy, and are quite outside
the scope of these observations. Nevertheless, there are many in a
different position who are not only willing but anxious to be doing
something better than at present they know how; but—and there’s the
rub—there exists among them the almost unconquerable suspicion of,
and aversion to, the gorgio. Although it might, with apparent reason,
be argued that _any_ effort on their behalf should be, or would be,
accepted by them, there would remain the incontestable fact that
commensurate success would not result unless the instructor could
speak to the gypsies in their own language, and demonstrated in every
possible way that he was in sympathy with them. Moreover, no building
of any kind at a distance from a camp would be likely to attract
pupils,—probably not a gypsy would attend any institution however much
he might desire the benefits to be obtained thereby. That there exists
nevertheless the inclination to learn trades may be gathered from the
remark made by a middle-aged gypsy, who, with a sweeping movement
of his hand towards his eight to ten children, varying in age from
twenty years to three, said to me, “Not one o’ them knows a trade, and
winter’s coming on.”

A gypsy will always appreciate, and never forget kindness suitably
tendered, that helps him to be independent of help; but he is liable to
curse either the hand that doles out pharisaical charity, or the bigot
who refuses help to one who does not belong to his sect.


  1. Artificial Flowers of Wood.

  2. Fern Basket.

  3. Daffodils.

  4. Bottles containing Woodwork Crosses, etc.

  5. Set of Doll’s Furniture and Grass Door-mat.

  6. Crosses, etc., removed from Bottle, Fig. 4.

  7. Grass Basket.

  8. Clothes Pegs, Heather Brooms, Rush Whip.

  9. Bouquet of Reed Flowers.

  10. Flower made from Turnip.]

Let us for a few moments consider the hard lot of the tent-dwelling
gypsy family, the members of which make a few different articles in
their season,—the wife, and possibly a child or two, after having
assisted to make a stock, hawk the things around for sale while the man
stays at home and makes more. When one takes into consideration the
many weary miles tramped, the hours and days worked through, and the
few pence realized for it all, it will be obvious that certain kinds
only of home-made articles can be hawked about to advantage, that is
to say, they must be of such kinds as can be made from raw material
costing little or nothing beside labour to procure. Great ingenuity is
displayed in piecing together all sorts of natural or manufactured odds
and ends into something that shall be sufficiently novel, attractive or
useful, to bring about the transfer of small coin from the gorgios
to themselves. One day they will be selling—perhaps it would be more
exact to say, trying to dispose of for next to nothing—little brooms
neatly made of heather or whips made of plaited rushes, the _Juncus
communis_ of botanists. At another time they may be seen burdened with
grass doormats, and it is not an uncommon occurrence for a gypsy woman
to carry many miles in one day, a heavy baby on one side, and on the
other a large basket of cottons, tapes, laces, etc., with one or more
of these grass mats, while another child may have a reserve of two
or three more. These mats, which are very often sold for threepence
each, contain a really large quantity of dry grass stems tightly bound
and woven together with strips of fresh bark of the bramble. Try and
imagine the amount of work involved in the production of one of these
threepenny serviceable mats:—

The man usually walks several miles out and back for a supply of grass
which is of a certain kind and is only locally abundant; he has to
gather the blackberry stems—not an attractive pastime—and prepare the
long strips of bark, manufacture the mat,—a hand-hardening if not a
heart-breaking operation; finally, the mat is carried around, often for
hours before being sold, and is sometimes even carried back to camp to
go around again, to be sold at last for threepence.

I know an old gypsy, seventy years of age, who in the proper season
walks to a spot eight miles distant from his usual camping ground to
gather those attractive purple plumes—the flowers of the common reed,
_Arundo phragmites_. After wading into the mud and water and cutting a
stock of the flowering stems and carrying them the eight miles to his
camp—sixteen miles in all—he cuts them into suitable lengths, bunches
them up and binds them neatly with some of the leaves, and afterwards
carries them around to sell at one penny the bunch.

The making of “gypsy clothes-pegs” still occupies many a gypsy fellow,
especially during the winter months, while some continue at it more
or less throughout the year. The art is one of those in the Romany
category of “chinning the cosh,” and it is interesting to note that a
westerner, who for the first time sees a gypsy setting about the task,
will regard him as working backwards. The few tools necessary for this
industry are—a bill-hook for cutting rods, a churi or knife, a strong
pair of scissors or tinman’s snips, a hammer and a bradawl.

Having procured a supply of wood, the worker cuts it into lengths that
will make two clothes-pegs. The knife is then held by the left hand,
and so placed that its back rests just under the knee of the operator,
who almost invariably sits at the work. The rod is then grasped by the
right hand and drawn across the edge of the knife towards the worker
in such a manner that only the bark, or slightly beyond, is removed,
and the rod made tolerably cylindrical. Then, using a piece of wood,
which is often stained to identify it, as a gauge for length, the rod
is placed upon a little post driven into the ground, a knife is held at
a right angle to it in the correct place, when one or two smart blows
given to the back of it with a heavy piece of wood cut the rod through
cleanly and quickly; it is next slightly split and, sometimes before,
sometimes after, the tin band has been pinned around near the top, the
knife is inserted in the slit and the peg is trimmed outwards, after
which a few cuts in shaping complete an article that sells at one penny
per dozen. They are usually hawked about by the women in batches of one

Attractive, if not particularly durable, fern baskets are often made
and offered for sale by gypsies in peaty or other districts in which
ferns are to be easily obtained. Such baskets are frequently composed
of sticks alternating with acorns or pine cones. A good-looking fern
is planted therein, a quantity of hypnum moss packed in the crevices
and it is then ready for sale. The making of baskets of this form is
very simple, the only materials needed being straight sticks, acorns
or pine cones and a little wire. Holes are drilled through both sticks
and cones, which are threaded on wires in the form of a curved mat, the
ends of which are brought together and the wires twisted. A twig or two
at the bottom and it is ready for the plant.

In some counties the daffodil grows in profusion in a semi-wild state
and is gathered by gypsies by sackfuls. The early bird catches the
worm, or, in other words, the first gypsy in the market sells most
daffodils, and as no one more fully realizes this than does the gypsy
himself, he sets about hurrying matters in this way:

[Illustration: BUNCHING “DAFFIES.”]

The flowers are picked while the buds are still unopened; during the
evening one may see the family seated around the fire, each one dipping
the flower stalks in a saucepan of hot water; they are then laid aside
until the morning, when they are rapidly and neatly bunched for
sale. Flowers which are forced open in this manner do not, of course,
last nearly so long as those which open naturally; but this does not
disturb the gypsy, who is usually too intently concerned with the
bread-and-jam aspect of the matter to be worried by such a trifle.

I was once photographing some gypsy fellows who were occupied in
bunching “daffies,” as they term them, when something went wrong with
the mechanism of my camera which necessitated the taking out of all the
plates for the removal of the obstruction. Here was a predicament; I
was nearly seven miles from home with no means of proceeding with my
work unless I could take all the plates from my camera, correct it,
and replace them in order. I decided therefore to risk doing it if by
any method whatever a dark “room” could be improvised, so, kneeling
upon the ground with my camera, the gypsy folk piled around and over
me, sacks, tent blankets, hay, daffodil bags and what not, while my
companion contributed a coat to supplement my own, then darkness seemed
complete and with misgivings I did what my sense of touch indicated as
being needed and recharged the camera,—but oh, the stuffiness and
the heat of my dark tent, to think of it even now gives me a sensation
of being suffocated. My companion took toll for the use of his coat by
snapshotting me while in the “dark room”; perhaps the picture opposite
may be more correctly described as the dark room while I was in it.

On another occasion I was changing plates at night in absolute darkness
in a caravan; a gypsy boy of about ten years of age was present during
the operation, and doubtless he thought it altogether a strange
business, for now and again he would say: “Oh, mush, ain’t it funny?”
I was very much afraid his curiosity would prompt him to strike a
match, to see what was actually going on; but, fortunately, he was
susceptible to my appeals to him to sit quite still; nevertheless,
I felt much relieved when I had my exposed plates safely packed and
the camera refilled, for I had that day exposed plates on some of my
choicest subjects. It will be evident to the photographically inclined,
that the conditions under which one practises the art while living as
a Romanichal among Romanies, are not always ideal; even the best of
shutters objects at times to roughing it, being set fast when it should
move, or becoming “unstuck” when it should be rigid; but this kind
of thing imparts additional variety to a changeful life, although
in the event of one being compelled to stay at home doing repairs
during the greater part of the best photographic day experienced,
one’s good or bad points are likely to be developed accordingly as the
soul is possessed in patience or the work in hand has an obbligato of

[Illustration: THE “DARK ROOM.”]

Most of the gypsies are very keen critics of photographs of themselves
or their acquaintances, and when portraits to their satisfaction are
produced they are extremely anxious to secure at least one copy “to put
up in the van.” In such cases I have found that the photographs are
carefully treated, and may be seen year after year; even tent-dwellers,
who, in the nature of things, have great difficulty in keeping pictures
of any kind in fair condition, will produce from somewhere a grubby
envelope or paper parcel, and exhibit with unmistakable interest its
contents, consisting of photographs of themselves and their tents,
which they have somehow managed to preserve in decent condition, and
they will give particulars as to how, when, where and why each was
taken, the minutest details of which have been preserved by their
wonderful memory.

In order to obtain gratis one or more copies of a picture from
the photographer, gypsies usually subject him to an amount of
diplomatic wheedling, which generally attains its object, albeit
curious inducements are sometimes advanced by them. A gypsy was once
endeavouring to cajole me into promising her another copy of her
portrait, her importunity reaching its climax when she said—

“Well, if you’ll give me one, I’ll buy a nice wooden frame for it to
remember you by.”

It is perhaps scarcely necessary to add that I immediately surrendered,
but I must confess that to this day I have not been able to appreciate
the implied benefit to myself in this munificent offer. It is, however,
abundantly evident that good photographs of themselves and relatives
are highly prized by the gypsies, and scarcely less so are those of
their proved friends. I have on several occasions seen my own portrait
included with those of the family, or enjoying a place of honour in
caravans, long after I had forgotten that the particular families had
it in their possession.

Gypsies are a most interesting people, and every one who has first-hand
knowledge of them is aware that there is not the least necessity to
invent mysterious rites, villainous practices or blood-curdling crimes,
and impute them to the Romanies, in order to make accounts of them
fascinating, yet we find to this day writers who would have their own
admirers believe that their atrocious tales of gypsies are the result
of personal observation and direct communication with them.

A comparatively recent newspaper article of this kind contains the
implication that they are never married by priest or parson, also that
when dead they are carried—uncoffined—and buried by their own people
(never otherwise) in a secluded spot known only to themselves. Another
writer states that the gypsies bury their dead under water.

It is much to be regretted that originators or copyists of such
statements as these, do not either ascertain the probability at least
of their being true, or refrain altogether from writing about things
of which they have no definite knowledge. These tales, were they not
cruelly unjust to the Romanies, would be almost as laughable as a
description I once heard being given by a man who certainly gave the
impression that he believed his own statement; he said:

“They always sleep with their heads outside their tents, and if you
happen to go to a camp early on a winter’s morning as I have been, you
will sometimes see their heads outside with the frost on them.”

Gypsies are frequently—all too frequently it is feared—driven to
great straits in hard weather to find the wherewithal to keep their
bodies fairly nourished and sufficiently clothed; but they are not the
fools nor the rogues that writers of such insensate tales as I have
quoted would have us believe, tales which my own experiences abundantly

During the greater part of the year, the food of the poorer families
consists very largely of potatoes, although the same people may—when
“luck is in”—be found regaling themselves with boiled neck of
mutton, potatoes and suet puddings. An occasional hedgehog is highly
appreciated by them. On more than one occasion my gypsy friends have
scarcely believed me when I stated that I had never eaten hedgehog.
“What!” exclaimed one, “never tasted hotchi—well, you _have_ missed
a treat and no mistake, they beat chicken, or rabbit or anything
else—well there, I never!”

Undoubtedly, gypsies are very fond of hedgehogs, some having dogs
specially trained to find and take them; the pigs are usually cooked in
either of the following ways:—

The hedgehog, after having been killed by being struck smartly on the
head with a stout stick, then receives a certain amount of preparation,
and in districts where the requisite clay is procurable, the animal,
skin and spines included, is completely encased in it and is well
cooked in a bed of glowing wood ashes. The al fresco _chef_ is able to
judge to a nicety when the meat is done, when the ball is withdrawn,
after which the clay is broken and dexterously removed, bringing away
with it the spiny covering of the hedgehog.

At other times, the luckless hotchi, after being killed is skinned, an
operation needing a gypsy to perform expeditiously, and the animal,
after some further preparation, is spitted on a stick and roasted
before a glowing wood fire, the spit being usually revolved by
hand-power of two of the family—one at either end. In either case,
hedgehog braised or roast seems to be a luxury to be coveted; indeed,
a gypsy epicure told me that as articles of food he considered them
“worth ten shillings apiece.”

In winter, gypsies do not disdain as food the common squirrel, in the
bringing of which to earth some of them are expert.

Rabbits, too, are quadrupeds with which—in the shape of viands at
least—most gypsies have a fairly intimate acquaintance.

While deprecating the killing of squirrels, hedgehogs and other
creatures of the wilds, it would be unfair to blame the gypsies, who do
it in order to assuage hunger, as is almost invariably the case, while
ignoring the fact that people who have not that excuse, kill infinitely
greater numbers of such creatures, often with far greater cruelty, for
so-called “sport.”

In the foregoing somewhat discursive, but absolutely veracious accounts
of Romany life, I have endeavoured to record, with strict impartiality
and in readable form, phases and episodes of gypsy existence, which in
the nature of things must be quite inaccessible by any other means, to
all but a few.

[Illustration: OFF TO THE “‘OPPIN’.”]

In a recent newspaper article, gypsies are called outlaws; on turning
up “outlaw” in a modern dictionary, one finds the word defined as “a
person deprived of the protection of the law.” Surely this statement
in the article in question must have been a reflection of the desires
of the writer, for the outlaws referred to were a section of
the English gypsies—virtually such as are the subjects of my pen,
pencil and camera. It is to be feared that the spirit of bigotry and
uncharitableness that characterized the Middle Ages is not dead; but,
like the justly detested couch grass, lives and grows around us unseen,
excepting for the elegant and innocent-looking but tell-tale evidences
here and there on the surface.

It is high time that the obloquy and unfair treatment to which our
gypsy brethren have been subjected—proceeding partly from ignorance of
the people themselves, and partly from the encouragement and exercise
of sentiments that are unworthy of a professedly Christian nation—gave
place to some embodiment of the behest—

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them.”

Drawing now to a conclusion, I see again with my mind’s eye, an
incident in one of my recent walks abroad:—

On the day following Christmas Day, at a distance of two or three miles
from any ordinary habitation, or even a gypsy camp, I saw trudging
along the road and coming towards me, a Romany woman and three little
children. All of them were poorly clad, the woman having no covering
to her head. Although they appeared to have no food with them and the
day was raw and foggy, all seemed cheerful—the woman singing in an
undertone. The song was evidently, “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” for
just as I came alongside the party I caught the words, “it’s a long
ways to go.”

What an unconscious sarcasm on the way of that poor woman and her
little ones,—aye, and of many another gypsy, through life,—assuredly
“a long ways to go” if it be regarded as prospecting for even a very
small share of the meanest of such things as multitudes consider
indispensable to comfort, or even existence. And yet how the cheery
optimism of these travelling people rebukes the discontented well-to-do

Gypsies or gorgios, are we not all travellers, pilgrims of eternity,
carrying nothing to the next stage in our existence but what we
accumulate in our innermost selves, and the Romanichal may well be an
optimist when he realizes, even in an indefinite way, that the poorest
gypsy has an equal opportunity with the highest of the mighty ones of
earth, of gathering to himself as he goes through life, of the best
that can be carried from this world into the next.


[1] See Fig. 22, p. 6.

[2] See Illustration facing p. 6.

[3] Probably a nest of _Vespa sylvestris_.

[4] Whortleberry.

[5] See p. 259.



  _Acoi_                    Here.
  _Adrey_                   Into.
  _Ajaw_                    So.
  _Auv acoi_                Come here.
  _Av_                      Come.
  _Avali_                   Yes.

  _Bar_                     A pound.
  _Baulo_                   A pig.
  _Bershor_                 Years.
  _Betie_                   Tiny, small.
  _Bis_                     Twenty.
  _Bokkra_                  A sheep.
  _Boro gav_                Big city—London.
  _Boronashemescrutan_      Epsom race-course.
  _Bosh_                    Fiddle.
  _Boshomengro_             Fiddler.
  _Buddigur_                A shop.
  _Buddigur divvus_         Shopping day, usually Saturday.
                              The term is sometimes used
                              for Monday, but this day is
                              more frequently called “toving
                              divvus,” or washing day.

  _Camipen-lil_             Love-letter.
  _Chavo_                   Child, boy.
  _Chies_                   Girls.
  _Chiklo_, _chickly_       Dirty.
  _Chin_                    To cut.
  _Chin a ran_              Cut a tent rod.
  _Chiv_                    Put.
  _Chivving tulipen prey_ }
    _the chokkars_        } Greasing the shoes.
  _Chokkars_                Shoes.
  _Choom_                   A kiss.
  _Chor’d_                  Stole.
  _Chorodies_               Dirty outcasts.
  _Chovahani_               Witch.
  _Churi_                   Knife.
  _Chuvvel_                 Coat.
  _Coru_                    Pot.
  _Cosh_                    Stick, or wood.
  _Cour_                    To fight.
  _Covar_                   Any article, thing.

  _Des_                     Ten.
  _Dick_                    To look.
  _Dickoi_                  Look here.
  _Diddecoy_                Local term for Chorodies.
  _Dinlo_, _Dinnelo_        A fool.
  _Divvus_                  Day.
  _Dordi_                   Oh dear.
  _Drab-engro_              Doctor (Poison man).
  _Drom_                    Way, or road.
  _Dui_                     Two.
  _Dukkerin_                Fortune telling.

  _Escunye-mengro_          A skewer-maker.

  _Gav_                     Town.
  _Gav mush_                Policeman.
  _Gorgio_                  One who is not a gypsy.
  _Gry_                     Horse.

  _Hev_                     Hole.
  _Hoquepen_                A lie, falsehood.
  _Horry_                   Pence.
  _Hotchi_                  Hedgehog.

  _Jal_                     To go.
  _Jal a moskeying_         Go a-spying.
  _Jalled_                  Went.
  _Jib_                     To live.
  _Jib_                     Tongue (speech).
  _Jibben_                  Life.
  _Jinned_                  Knew, understood.
  _Juggal_                  A dog.

  _Kai_                     Where.
  _Kairengro_               One who lives in a house.
  _Kaulo_                   Black.
  _Kaulo gav_               Black town (Birmingham).
  _Kek_                     No, not, etc.
  _Kekkeno mush’s poov_     A common.
  _Kekko_                   It is not, etc.
  _Kekaubi_}                Kettle.
  _Kaubi_  }
  _Kekauvisky saster_       Kettle iron.
  _Kek komi_                No more.
  _Kitchema_                Public-house.
  _Komi_                    More.
  _Korauna_                 A crown (money).
  _Kushti_                  Good.
  _Kushti divvus_           Good day.
  _Kushti rardi_            Good night.

  _Lelled_                  Took, or taken.
  _Leste_                   Him, of him.
  _Lil_                     A book, letter or note.
  _Loo_                     Corruption of “lee.”

  _Mande_                   Me, mine.
  _Mas_                     Meat.
  _Moomli_                  Candle.
  _Mui_                     Face.
  _Mullo mas_               Dead meat.
  _Mumpers_                 Vagrants who live as gypsies.
  _Mumply gorgio_           A term of reproach. See _mumpers_
                              and _gorgio_.
  _Mush_                    Man.

  _Nevi Wesh_               New Forest.

  _O_                       The.
  _Opré_                    Upon, above.

  _Pal_                     Brother.
  _Panee_, _Pani_           Water.
  _Pani-mengri_             A vessel for water, a pail.
  _Pani-mush_               Sailor, waterman.
  _Pantsch_                 Five.
  _Paracrow tute_           Thank you.
  _Pasherro_                A halfpenny.
  _Patrin_                  Trail, or sign.
  _Pawnugo hev_             Well, or water hole.
  _Pen_                     Sister.
  _Penned_                  Said.
  _Pens_                    Says.
  _Petulengro_              Romany for the surname
  _Plastra_                 Run.
  _Poggado_                 Broken.
  _Poggado jib_             Broken tongue, jargon.
  _Poov_                    Earth, field, etc.
  _Poov the gry_            Literally, field the horse, but it
                              is always understood to mean—to
                              put a horse in a field, at
  _Por-engro_               A writer.
  _Posh_                    Half.
  _Posh korauna_            Half a crown.
  _Posh ta posh_            Half and half.
  _Praio_                   Upper.
  _Prala_                   Brother.
  _Pukker_                  To speak.
  _Pukkering cosh_          Literally, talking wood,—Finger-post,
                              sign-post. A better
                              term, but not so commonly
                              used, is—_Drom sikkering engri_,—a
                              thing for showing the
  _Putsi_                   Pocket.

  _Rawnie_                  Lady.
  _Rinkeny_                 Handsome.
  _Rokkra_                  To speak.
  _Romadi_                  Wife.
  _Romany_                  Gypsy language.
  _Romany chal_, _chi_      Gypsy lad, lass.
  _Romany jib_              Gypsy language.
  _Romany Rye_              Gypsy gentleman.
  _Romipen_                 Marriage.
  _Rommado_                 Husband.
  _Romm’d_                  Married.
  _Rye_                     Gentleman.

  _Sho_                     Six.
  _Shohaury_, _Shockhorry_  Sixpence.
  _Shok_                    Cabbage.
  _Shoon_                   Hear.
  _Shoshoi_                 Rabbit.
  _Si_                      Is, it is.
  _Sore_                    All.
  _So si_                   What is.
  _Stardo_                  Imprisoned.
  _Staripen_                Prison.
  _Stiggur_                 Gate.
  _Stor_                    Four.

  _Tachey_, _Tatcho_        True.
  _Tachipen_                Truth.
  _Tan_                     Place, or tent.
  _Tatchey Romany_          Gypsy of pure blood.
  _Tatcho pal_              True brother.
  _Tatto_                   Hot.
  _Tatto yeck_              A stinging blow.
  _Tem_                     Country.
  _Tickno_                  Child.
  _Tippoty_                 Spiteful.
  _Trin_                    Three.
  _Tuley_                   Below.
  _Tulipen_                 Grease, fat.
  _Tuti_, or _tute_         Thou, or you.
  _Tuv_                     Tobacco, cigarette.

  _Vardo_                   Cart, wagon, caravan.

  _Wardoe_                  See _Vardo_.
  _Woddrus_                 Bed.

  _Yag_                     Fire.
  _Yeck_                    One.
  _Yocks_                   Eyes.
  _Yog_                     Fire (more frequently used).


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