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Title: Gypsy Coppersmiths in Liverpool and Birkenhead
Author: Macfie, R. A. Scott
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gypsy Coppersmiths in Liverpool and Birkenhead" ***

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Transcribed from the 1913 Henry Young and Sons edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

               [Picture: Vola.  Photo, by Fred. Shaw, Esq.]

                            GYPSY COPPERSMITHS
                             IN LIVERPOOL AND

                               (MUI SHUKO)

      [Picture: Graph of serpent with letters R. A. S. M. around it]

                           HENRY YOUNG AND SONS

                                * * * * *

                   Printed by ROBERT MCGEE & CO., Ltd.,
                    34 South Castle Street, Liverpool.

                                * * * * *

To E. O. W.,

as amends for his annoyance when the railway-officials refused to allow
the donkey to travel with a dog-ticket, and

To B. G.-S.,

in gratitude for comforting portions of St. Luke and scrambled eggs
administered in hours of depression, these sketches are dedicated.

                                                       _December_, _1913_.


Gunia = Binka (f.)      Grantsha (b. 1825) = Lolodzhi (f.).

Descendants of Gunia:

                        Gunia = Binka (f.)
                   Kokoi (Fanaz). = Vorzha (f.)
Worsho (Garaz) b. 1881. = Saliska (Anastasi).   Luba, a widow.

Descendants of Grantsha:

                 Grantsha (b. 1825) = Lolodzhi (f.).
Worsho      Fardi       Yishwan.    Yantshi.    Vorzha      3 other
(Nikola     (Andreas)   =           = Worsha    (f.). =     daughters
or Kola     b. 1860.    Parashiva   (f.).       Yono.
Tshoron)    = Lotka     (f.).
the         (f.).
chief. =
            Worsho      5           6           2 married
            (Vasili).   children.   children.   sons.
            4 other
            children.                           Milanko.

                                                4 other

Descendants of Worsho (Nikola or Kola Tshoron) the chief:

      Worsho (Nikola or Kola Tshoron) the chief. = Tinka (f.).
Kola          Yanko b.      Terka (f.).   Zhawzha       2 other
(Nikola)      1893. =       = Burda       (Sophie). =   daughters.
the           Vola (f.).    (Morkosh).    Pudamo
younger. =                                (Adam
Liza (f.).                                Kirpatsh).


     1.  Everywhere strangers: everywhere at home          1
     2.  Imperium in imperio                               7
     3.  Gypsy bagmen                                     13
     4.  The tale of a tub                                20
     5.  Parliaments                                      26
     6.  The photograph                                   32
     7.  The sick boy                                     38
     8.  A good work                                      44
     9.  The revelation                                   50
    10.  An unwritten tongue                              57


WHEN you want to find a Gypsy the police are more likely to be able to
give you his address than directories, bankers, or ministers of religion;
and it was a Liverpool policeman who sent me to the back of the municipal
slaughter-house to seek a horde of “Hungarian” _Roms_ whose arrival had
been announced by the evening papers.  In a squalid street, at a corner
where insanitary dwellings had been demolished, I found a vacant plot of
brick-strewn ground surrounded by high walls.  There, evidently, were my
Gypsies, for a crowd of boys had gathered round the one door, struggling
for a glance through its keyhole.  Mistaking me for a detective, they
made way, and I knocked loudly and long.

The boys were not mistaken.  There was a scene within which was worth
looking at.  The strangers had journeyed so rapidly from Marseilles to
Liverpool that they had outstripped their heavy baggage, and, arriving
before their tents, were obliged to bivouac under tiny extemporized
shelters propped against the windowless house-walls which formed two
sides of the square.  They were making the best of circumstances with
considerable success, for they had with them countless beds of eiderdown
in brilliantly coloured covers, and they had their all-important
samovars.  The men were out, but the women, protected by a
police-serjeant from the inhospitable attentions of their neighbours,
were in the camp, and into that shabby yard they had brought an
unaccustomed glory which was altogether foreign and oriental.

He who stepped through the battered door in St. Andrew Street travelled
fifteen hundred miles in a second.  Without, the slaughter-house and
slums—dull, drab Liverpool; within, the glorious East—strange dark faces
of exotic beauty, a blaze of scarlet gowns and yellow gold.  For the
women were bedizened with much jewellery: rings shone on their fingers,
barbaric bracelets on their arms, chains and corals dangled from their
necks, heavy pendants from their ears, and on their blouses sparkled many
trinkets and brooches.  Their jet-black hair hung in two plaits over
their shoulders, and in each plait was woven a cord to which were
attached six or seven great gold medals, generally Continental coins of
100 francs, but often our own magnificent five-pound pieces.  And
everywhere children gambolled—pictures of health and happiness, fawn-like
creatures whose scanty shifts scarcely concealed their lithe brown

Centuries ago man’s inhumanity taught Gypsies the lesson that language is
given them for the purpose of concealing their thoughts, and even now a
Gypsy invitation, especially if it be pressing and cordial, often proves
to have been a device for preventing a second visit.  I was assured that
carts had been ordered for seven o’clock to effect the removal of the
band to two houses they had rented in Pitt Street.  Wishing to see the
flitting, I returned earlier than the time stated, found that they had
departed at six, tracked them with difficulty, and overtook them, not in
Pitt Street, but on the Landing-stage, awaiting the Birkenhead
luggage-boat.  At the head of the procession was a large tilted cart in
which squatted all the women and children, from elderly and angular
Mothers of Egypt to beautiful Vola, the chief’s daughter-in-law, carrying
her little baby.  Two waggons followed, loaded with luggage, over which,
high piled, was the bedding, and on top of all, dressed in the costume of
theatrical brigands, the black-bearded men carrying long staves
elaborately decorated with silver.

There were full forty souls in the party, but when the boat arrived at
Birkenhead, Kola, the chief, held up the traffic by engaging the
ticket-collector in an altercation as to the exact number.  Since he
spoke in Russian and the official in English, neither convinced the
other.  The chief maintained that there were only fourteen; the collector
set the figure considerably higher, but as no two of his repeated
attempts at enumeration agreed with one another, while the chiefs
estimate never varied, Kola may be said to have had, on the whole, the
best of the argument.  At all events the management preferred giving way
to being detained all night, and Uncle Kola triumphantly led his
procession up the bridge.

Meanwhile a spectator passing along Green Lane, Tranmere, might have seen
a very curious spectacle in the English Gypsies’ camp, for that was the
destination of the aliens.  On a bare patch of cindery earth between the
dark brown tents of the Boswells and Robinsons, a piece of carpet had
been spread, and on it, as advanced guard awaiting the main body, sat
portly Tinka, the chief’s wife.  Cross-legged, motionless, aloof, her
eyes fixed on a distant infinity, quite alone yet totally unconcerned,
she smoked her cigarette calmly in a long meerschaum holder.  Red-robed
as ever, wearing an immense weight of solid gold, brilliant as a flame,
she contrasted strangely with the dingy colouring of the place: a Chinese
idol in a Methodist chapel would have been less incongruous.  But the
English Gypsies, aping her detachment, feigned absence of interest; no
one was visible—nevertheless many an eye was eagerly pressed to a hole in
the tent-blanket.

This invasion by foreign Gypsies was not relished by the old inhabitants
of the pitch, and they threatened to drive the aliens out.  But the
aliens neither valued popularity nor feared the _Sinte_, as they
contemptuously called their British brethren; with scarce a glance
towards, or a thought of, their neighbours, they went diligently to work
to make themselves comfortable.  First they removed, without permission,
all the carts from stables near the camp, and set them, shafts in air, to
make shelters for the night, one for each family.  Then, needing coke,
and brooms, and water, and other necessaries, they turned to the despised
_Sinte_ and borrowed what they required from them.  And then the English
Gypsy women fell in love with Vola’s baby, and the English Gypsy men were
impressed by Kola’s size and ability, and the gorgeous display of gold
touched a responsive chord in all their hearts.  And so in an incredibly
short space of time the strangers became completely at home.

           [Picture: Kola (on right).  Photo, by Central News]


MANY kinds of foreigner tread the streets of Liverpool, and thus, when
Uncle Kola and his tribe appeared on the banks of the Mersey from nowhere
in particular the little boys put him down as a new species of “Dago,”
and did not embarrass him with unwelcome attention.  Yet Kola is an
extraordinary man, and even his costume is conspicuous.  His trousers,
superfluously baggy and decorated with wide stripes of bright green and
red, are thrust into great top-boots elaborately stitched.  The
complicated braiding of his dark blue coat and waistcoat would be
remarkable were it not eclipsed by the glory of his enormous buttons,
splendid examples of the silversmith’s craft.  Kola is tall and
powerfully built, and he wears his finery with effect, supporting himself
by a five-foot staff almost covered with silver, on which shine countless
little images of Buddha.  His keen eye, aquiline nose, strong mouth, and
venerable beard tinged with grey make derision impossible; and he walked
our thoroughfares with dignity, slowly, gravely scrutinizing the town as
if it owed him money.

And Kola intended that it should—before he left it.  That was why he had
come.  He was already rich; his pockets contained bank-notes which he
could have exchanged anywhere for several hundred golden sovereigns, and
his relations believe that he is worth £30,000.  On great occasions he
can decorate his table, which stands only fourteen inches high, with
lordly plate; a silver samovar weighing twenty-three pounds is matched by
a huge salver and an immense bucket of the same precious metal decorated
in high relief.  The weight of solid gold which his wife carries in her
hair, on her blouse, and round her neck and wrists is nothing less than
royal.  Kola is, in fact, a ruler; and, if the citizens of Liverpool took
but little interest in him and his subjects, he reciprocated their
contempt, regarding them simply as so many more or less stupid persons
who were destined to provide for him and his tribe what they were then
seeking—copper pots to mend.

Kola is suave and courtly, and if you had asked him what were his name
and nationality he would have replied at once that he was Nicolas
Tshoron, a Caucasian, Russian, Ruthenian, Galitsian, or Hungarian.  He
has now removed his kingdom to Brazil, and if you were to follow him
across the Atlantic and repeat the question it is probable that he would
elect to call himself Italian, French, or English.  He may be all of
these if a short period of residence is sufficient qualification; but,
though he knows it not, Rumania has stronger claims to him, and India
stronger claims still.  Sitting on the carpeted floor of his great
pedimental tent, surrounded by his family and connexions, you would have
found that he is really Worsho, son of Grantsha, and that he is a Gypsy.
Not, of course, exactly the kind we know; he would call our Gypsies
scornfully _Sinte_, and claim that he and his tribe alone are the _Roma_.
Intellectually he is a giant.  In the morning his subjects would set out
to solicit orders, returning despondently as night fell with empty hands
or single pans on their shoulders.  But Kola would march triumphantly to
the camp followed by a lorry heavily laden with cauldrons he had
collected for repair.  It was Kola who directed the work, and when any
special difficulty arose it was he who sat down and overcame it.  He was
completely illiterate; yet he used a complicated form of contract which
he dictated and his patrons wrote and signed.  It concealed artfully the
extortionate charges he proposed to make, and hoodwinked not only the
authorities of a great political club but even those of a municipal
kitchen.  And it was Kola who faced the indignant customer who came to
protest against the charge, and either browbeat him into submission or
put him into court.

The craft of the Gypsies was magnificent, and they wielded their hammers
sensitively, as if there were nerve-endings in the heads.  They were
admittedly more skilful than British coppersmiths, ready to undertake and
execute successfully work that would elsewhere be refused as impossible.
But their ideas of remuneration were grandiose, and in a country where
bargaining is a neglected science they retained an oriental habit of
demanding ten times as much as they were prepared to accept.  It mattered
not if his customers were offended—Kola never intended to see them again.
And so he and his subjects spent a few weeks in each town collecting
work, a few weeks in doing it, and a few turbulent and glorious weeks in
exacting payment.  Then they shook the dust from off the soles of their
feet, and departed for ever from the city they had exhausted.

Kola’s policy is successful; it has made him rich.  Other Gypsies have
attached themselves to his family, married his relations, and placed him
at the head of an important tribe, whose activities he regulates, whose
well-being he cares for, whose movements he directs, which he governs as
“king.”  When dissatisfaction arises the malcontents are free to migrate
to another monarchy; but so long as Kola is successful and so long as his
subjects share his success, thus long will his kingdom endure.

Kola’s kingdom should be impossible.  It is contrary to reason, contrary
at all events to what we call reason, that a community should prefer the
primitive ways of the Middle Ages to the latest improvements of modern
civilization.  His bellows were old-fashioned even in the fifteenth
century and survive now only among savages; yet in his eyes they are
still the best bellows, and if out of curiosity he were to purchase a
mechanical blower he would probably hand it over to his grandchildren for
a toy.  With pockets well lined with money he neglects to buy table
cutlery, tears his portion of bread from the loaf and scrapes it clumsily
in the butter-dish.  The luxurious chairs and sofas with which he
furnishes his royal tent are vain ostentation; guests may use them, but
Kola himself prefers to sit, as his ancestors have sat for countless
centuries, cross-legged on the ground.  Us and all that we value, with
the single exception of money, he despises even more cordially than we
despise him.  Like a drop of oil in a glass of water he and his tribe
live in our midst untouched, strangely aloof and alien, a wonderful
spectacle of an _Imperium in Imperio_.

3.  GYPSY BAGMEN. {13}

THE commercial traveller is more truly born to his profession than the
poet, unless an unreasonably exacting definition of poet be accepted; and
to those who are not thus born, it seems inexplicable that any sane
person should willingly adopt so toilsome and disagreeable, yet thankless
and inglorious, an occupation, and even learn to like it.  Paradoxically
the Gypsy coppersmiths, in travelling, combined the methods of a raw
apprentice, foredoomed to failure, with diligence, enthusiasm—and
success—which proved them born bagmen.  They evidently enjoyed being “on
the road” in this very un-Gypsylike sense; yet, Gypsylike, retained their
independence, differing from the common “drummer” in that they
represented, not an exacting master, but their own still more exacting
selves.  The fact that they travelled was not remarkable—travelling was
the necessary prelude to their industry.  What was astonishing was the
versatility which enabled them both to beat our native coppersmiths in
smithcraft and to rival British agents in the energy with which they
canvassed for the orders they were themselves to execute.

With patience anybody can become a fairly good commercial traveller who
has a respectable appearance and good address, carries a useful article,
and asks a reasonable price.  The Gypsies certainly carried a useful
article, inasmuch as their repairs were skilful and thorough, but all the
other circumstances were against them.  Their extravagant costume
reminded those on whom they called of brigands rather than of sober
business-men, and brigands are not welcome in offices or factories.  In
combination with their black hair and glittering eyes it was apt to
betray their nationality.  If it did, so much the worse, for a commercial
transaction with a Gypsy is several degrees more unpopular than a
commercial transaction with a Jew.

As for address, it mattered not at first whether they possessed it or
not, for they spoke no English.  They soon discovered and engaged
threadbare ungrammatical aliens to talk for them, but until they obtained
such assistance they were content to carry tattered scraps of soiled
paper on which their qualifications were set forth in a handwriting and
dialect which were very far from commanding the respect of possible
customers.  Here again they reared an unnecessary obstacle against their
own success, for it is an axiom that the worse the business, the better
must be the quality of the stationery.  Even when they had learned a
little English—and, belying Gypsy reputation, they learnt it very
slowly—they scorned to use ingratiating behaviour, delicate compliment,
or even funny stories; their whole persuasive stock-in-trade was a whine,
a dogged and irritating perseverance, inability to recognize the moment
when it is more profitable to go than to stay, and stone-deafness to the
most emphatic “no.”  In short, their method was simply the endless
importunity which their wives and children devoted to shameless and
successful begging.

It is easy to give goods away; only an expert bagman can get a high
price.  Price is the real criterion of the traveller.  In this respect
the Gypsies were nothing if not ambitious, for they set out with the
intention of exacting remuneration so exorbitant that their repairs often
cost more than a pot new from the maker.  Thus their only practicable
policy was to conceal carefully the sum they proposed to ask, and escape
at all costs from the danger of giving the estimate which was always
demanded.  The form of their contract was ingeniously designed to serve
this purpose, and they also attempted to disarm natural suspicion by
offering to mend—or insisting on mending, for they were very
masterful—the first article for nothing as a proof of their skill.  The
latter device was generally unsuccessful, for in Great Britain the offer
of something for nothing, or the pretence that it is work, not wages,
that is wanted, is apt rather to increase than diminish mistrust.
Moreover their conduct was in other respects far from reassuring.  When
the owner of a pot, wearied by their persistence and, if convinced of
nothing else, convinced at least that his only hope of getting back to
business lay in surrender, had resolved reluctantly to entrust the vessel
to their care, they would reawaken his slumbering suspicions by
suggesting that he would require surety for its safe return.  And the
unhappy man was obliged to postpone his relief from torture, and set his
tired wits to work devising non-committal receipts for gold coins and
foreign bank-notes in the genuineness of which he very shrewdly

The deposit was part of a game which the Gypsies refused to play
otherwise than by rule.  And so humble Worsho Kokoiesko would fish out
the single gold piece which represented all his fortune which his wife
did not wear, and the great Kola would brandish bundles of French notes
in the face of his victim.  Kola was accustomed—perhaps wisely—to flaunt
his wealth, but some of his relations who were also well-to-do used
professions of poverty as arguments when soliciting work.  To their
strangely illogical minds simulated indigence was not inconsistent with
the exhibition of large sums of money.  I have myself assisted, as
dragoman, in their negotiations with an important manufacturer of jam.
“Tell him,” they said, “that we are Hungarian coppersmiths.”  This I did,
without serious scruples, adding at their command, and with a clear
conscience, that their work was excellent.  To their next instructions,
“Tell him that our wives are starving and our children crying for bread,”
I was inclined to demur, but was sternly overruled.  The jam-manufacturer
was visibly affected, and pity for these strangers within our
inhospitable gates appeared for a moment in his face.  But only for a
moment; hurriedly thrusting a bundle covered with red silk into my hands,
the Gypsies added: “Show him this; tell him not to be afraid to trust
us.”  And as I untied the knots twenty great yellow coins appeared—£80 in
solid gold!

No less conspicuous than their want of finesse was their want of
organization.  They neither divided the city into districts to parcel
them out among their members, nor even the users of copper vessels into
classes.  Collecting addresses from strangers they met casually, they
visited factories and institutions at random, wasting much time in long
tramps from one extreme end of the town to the other and then immediately
back to the first district.  Lucky the man who discovered a new,
unvisited manufactory; a courteous reception and patient hearing were
generally given him.  The patience of most manufacturers had been early
exhausted by the repeated and lengthy invasions of other members of the
tribe, and they were in no mood for further interviews.  Some of the more
enterprising and wealthy Gypsies seemed to realize this, for they made
expensive journeys from Birkenhead to Manchester, Leeds, and even the
Isle of Man.  The disappointingly small results would have disheartened
an ordinary commercial traveller, but the Gypsies were anything but
ordinary travellers.  And gradually their patience was rewarded, and the
camp became littered with cauldrons and pots awaiting repair, striking
evidence of the almost miraculous power of sheer, unreasoning tenacity.


MILANKO, son of Yono, was an impertinent lad, but good-humoured, rather
ugly and always grinning.  I had assured him repeatedly that in the
sugar-refinery to which I have the misfortune to be attached all the
“pots” were as big as houses and in perfect repair, so that to my deep
regret I was unable to take advantage of the offer of his professional
services.  Milanko, however, with the incredulity of an habitual liar,
made an independent reconnaissance through a window and caught sight of
an ancient copper tub, some six feet in diameter and about a quarter of a
ton in weight.  Moreover he ascertained, by means best known to himself,
that it was cracked and patched; and I was weak enough to admit, under
his searching cross-examination, that it would be an advantage to have
its inner surface coated with tin.  It was a huge vessel, but Milanko was
ambitious, and thereafter called regularly at inconvenient hours to
present a series of petitions: first, for the order to mend and tin the
pan; second, for the loan of a pound to purchase solder; third, for half
a sovereign to get boots; fourth, for five shillings to buy a hat; and
fifth, for three pence, the price of a packet of cigarettes.  He accepted
the emphatic refusal of his larger requests philosophically and without
resentment.  To the last I gave a favourable hearing, even at our first
interview, and we parted with a friendly exchange of _Zha Devlesa_ (Go
with God) and _Ash Devlesa_ (Remain with God), well understanding that a
second rehearsal was ordered for the morrow and that it would be
succeeded by daily performances.  The play had not a long run.  One
ill-starred afternoon I granted the main petition, and the cauldron was
carted to Birkenhead to be deposited in the camp.

Knowing that the Gypsies’ policy was always to do as much work as
possible, and generally far more than their customer expected or
required, I sent the chief engineer to Green Lane to make plain to them
that the vessel was only to be tinned, and that the cracks and patches
were to be left unmended.  No contract was signed, though there was a
distinct verbal agreement that the cost was to be one pound.  I was,
however, prepared to pay as much as three, the price for which a
Liverpool firm had offered to do the same work, because I recognized that
the pan was large and heavy and was interested to see how the
coppersmiths would handle it without either blocks and tackle or large
fires.  To my great disappointment I was allowed to see nothing.  When I
visited the camp the cauldron was always discreetly covered with a sheet,
and the Gypsies found ingenious means to keep me and it as far apart as
possible.  But occasionally they would draw me aside and expatiate
alarmingly on the amount of tin, acid and labour that were needed, and,
ignoring their estimate, talk tentatively of forty pounds as a just and
probable charge.

At last, one morning, a messenger arrived to report that the cauldron was
ready for delivery, and on the afternoon of the same day the chief
engineer, instructed that he might pay three pounds but not a penny more,
took with him a cart and crossed the river to Birkenhead.  He found the
pan turned upside down on the cindery ground of the camp and proposed to
remove it to the refinery in order that the quality of the work might be
examined.  But the Gypsies, holding that possession is nine-tenths of the
law, refused to permit the removal before payment was made.  The wisdom
of their decision became evident when bargaining began, for the engineer
offered one pound while they, with fierce indignation, demanded
twenty-five, making the sum unmistakably clear by placing a sovereign on
the pan and indicating the numeral by means of their outstretched
fingers.  The discrepancy between claim and tender was too wide for easy
or rapid adjustment, and neither side showed any willingness to
compromise.  The engineer, accustomed to dealing with Orientals, stuck to
his terms, but finding the Gypsies equally stubborn and much noisier, and
convinced as tea-time approached that no settlement was then possible, he
ordered the cart back to Liverpool and himself withdrew from the

And then the Gypsies made a false step.  The engineer had scarcely
settled down to his evening meal when, to his amazement, word was sent
from the refinery that the cauldron and the coppersmiths were at the
gate.  They had changed their minds, hastened to overtake the cart aboard
the luggage-boat, and persuaded the carter to return to the tents and
bring the pan away.  The office being closed when they arrived,
settlement of their little account was out of the question, and, obliged
to surrender the only security they had for payment, they could but
protest loudly and depart with an invitation to call again the next day.

Other duties kept me away from business, and I was not a spectator of
their visit.  But I heard afterwards long, eloquent and indignant stories
of how Milanko, apparelled like a mountebank, with his father and the
deformed dwarf Burda or Morkosh, his cousin’s husband, dared to profane
the solemnity of the counting-house, a sanctuary where the cumulative
respectability of five generations of sugar-boilers is devoutly
worshipped.  Never during the whole course of its long business
experience had that chamber entertained guests so unwelcome.  They
arrived at ten in the morning and stayed until half-past two, demanding
payment from the cashier and relenting gradually from twenty-five to
seven pounds, less than which they long refused to accept.  Nobody knew
what to do with them—the situation was unprecedented.  When tired of
standing and worrying busy clerks with the question “Master, what you do
now?” they scandalized the whole staff by sitting cross-legged on the
floor.  It was a contest of endurance; and, thanks to the definite orders
I had left, we won.  Just as the problem of what was to happen at closing
time, if they were still in possession, was becoming insistent, the
Gypsies gave way, accepted three pounds and retired, after desecrating
the office for four hours and a half.

It would have been absurd to expect Kola’s disciples to rest content with
a reasonable reward, and indeed they often begged for supplementary
payments.  Even the chief’s wife condescended to interest herself in the
matter and complained to me about the character of the engineer—a bad
man, as she said; and I had to explain that it was partly for this
particular fault of character that we valued him.  Yono never forgave me,
but Milanko resumed friendly relationships at once, and I believe that
the tribe in general respected me the more for my victory.


THE profession of the Gypsies, according to a reverend Spanish professor,
whom Borrow quotes, is idleness; and by their proverb _Butin hi
dinilenge_ (Work is for fools) the German Gypsies plead guilty to the
charge.  In this respect the coppersmiths were exceptional, for among
them diligence raged almost as an epidemic fever.  The missionary of the
eight-hours day would not have found a welcome in their camp, nor the
agent of a Sabbath-observance society any encouragement.  On all days of
the week, at all hours of the day, the rhythmic tap of their hammers and
the muffled gust of their bellows preached eloquent sermons on industry,
while knots of busy women, sewing, washing and cooking, gave an equally
striking object-lesson in the same subject.

Nor did they seek to compensate by recreation for long hours of labour.
The young people showed a certain skill in games like knuckle-bones or
pitch-and-toss, and took a slight interest in boxing and wrestling but
seldom practised them.  Only on rare occasions did they and their elders
play cards or visit music-halls, and the gramophones which several
families possessed were little heard.  If they danced it was when there
was a prospect of extorting baksheesh from visitors, and the
ill-remembered tales and songs which they sold to collectors of such
curiosities seemed to be rather what they had heard others tell or sing
than what they cherished for their own amusement.  Unlike many of their
brethren they were not entertainers, and they had no strong desire to be
themselves entertained.

Judged from a trade-union point of view, or even from that of a
picture-palace proprietor, this excessive devotion to work would be
regarded as a symptom of savagery; yet, as increasing productiveness and
wealth, it might with equal justice be taken as a sign of advanced
civilization.  In one respect, however, the Gypsies were undoubtedly
primitive, and that was in their faith in parliaments.  When day had
faded into night and toil had ceased, if they were not eating their
irregular meals or drinking glasses of tea made in samovars whose hours
of work were scarcely less than their own, the coppersmiths were holding
interminable divans.  In wet or cold weather parliament assembled within
a tent; but on warm evenings sessions were held in the open air, the
members sitting in a ring cross-legged on the ground or lolling on beds
of eiderdown.  Although the children were kept at a distance these
meetings were not councils of elders, since the young men as well as the
old were present.  Their wives and daughters sat apart engaged in womanly
occupations, for there was in the tribe no need to blow a “trumpet
against the monstrous regiment of women.”

Probably Kola, the chief, would not have permitted the constant presence
of inquisitive visitors when important matters were under discussion, or
would have changed the subject on their arrival.  In any case to have sat
evening after evening, as it were in the distinguished strangers’
gallery, listening to debates which were only half intelligible, was an
entertainment drearier than any of his visitors was prepared to face.
Thus it is impossible to decide whether these parliaments had legislative
and judicial functions, or whether, as Kola’s privy council, they were
only deliberative and advisory.  When strangers were present Fardi
sometimes improved the occasion by producing a little ragged map of the
world to question them about the amenities of different countries.  It
was a projection after the method of Mercator, in which Greenland
appeared, grossly exaggerated, as an attractive patch of bright colour
equal in size to the whole of Europe and pleasantly unspotted by the
names of icy mountains or any other geographical complexities.  This
image of Greenland had for Fardi the same attraction as the bellman’s
chart for the Snark-hunting crew, and he was convinced only with
difficulty that, the climate being intolerable and the natives poor, he
was unlikely to do there a great trade in mending copper pots.  To
parliament, too, Kola exhibited his first large payment in British money,
a big bundle of Bank of England notes.  His subjects passed them from
grimy hand to grimy hand, tugged them viciously, held them up to the
light, and then delivered judgment: “Ugly notes, but tough paper.”

The discussions were as solemn as those of the mother of parliaments at
Westminster, and much more sincere, although they were neither opened
with prayer nor encumbered by any decorative formalities.  If the chief
was chairman—and he sometimes enthroned himself upon an upturned
cauldron—his services were seldom required either to keep order, which
was amply secured by the native dignity of the members, or to direct a
debate that had no tendency to stray from the one subject which was
uppermost in all their minds.  Generalities that had no concrete
application to their trade did not interest them, and they would have
refused to send a representative to the congress which was held in
Hungary in 1879 to deliberate on the common interests of Gypsies
everywhere.  Sometimes when Russians visited the camp the coppersmiths
would listen so eagerly to long accounts of events in the outside world
that it seemed as though the divan was their newspaper or club, and stood
to them in the same relation as the “crack i’ the kirkyard” to Scottish
farm-folk a century ago, or as his favourite public-house to the British
workman.  But in truth only those facts really interested them which
affected their work and industry, and most of what they heard passed in
at one ear and out at the other.  They were greedy for knowledge of the
wealth of nations, the size of cities, or the trades by which towns
prospered; they collected scraps of paper on which chance acquaintances
had scribbled the addresses of factories; and in fact all their
conversation and all their thoughts were concerned with the problem of
work and where to find it.


CONVERSATION was difficult, not because there was nothing to talk about,
but because Lotka, Fardi’s comely wife, returned at every opportunity to
the subject of my study carpet.  I had invited them to afternoon tea and
they were taking it in my room, behaving with the perfect propriety
Gypsies always observe under circumstances in which the manners and
self-possession of a British workman would fail.  But my carpet was thick
and soft, catholic in its colour-taste though red in the main, and
decorated with a large angular sprawling Indian pattern—and Lotka had
fallen in love with it.  She had proposed to take it up at once and
transfer it to her tent at Tranmere, waiving aside my objected fear of
cold feet with the reply that I could go to bed then and buy a new one in
the morning.  All will sympathize with my eagerness to change the subject
who know what serious Gypsy begging means: it is dangerous as oratory,
convincing a man against his reason, and leading to bitterly repented
sacrifices.  But those who have experienced it will know also the
impossibility of escape.  Like a skiff in a whirlpool our talk might seem
to be sailing pleasantly North, South, East or West, and yet be tending
inevitably towards the central peril.  No matter what conversational
subject was started it led relentlessly back to the carpet.

Amongst other fruitless devices for escape which ingenuity, quickened by
despair, suggested, was the production of albums of Gypsy pictures, the
leaves of which my guests turned indifferently, punctuating their talk
with contemptuous exclamations of “_Sinte_”—but the talk was still of
carpets.  There were photographs of real Gypsies from everywhere on
earth, engravings of artists’ Gypsies such as have never been seen
anywhere in the world, highly coloured illustrations of camps, and
ancient woodcuts of the costume Gypsies wore of old; but none represented
“Our _Roma_” and for Fardi and his spouse all were devoid of any kind of
interest.  In the middle of a page, however, was a somewhat mean
picture-postcard which had reached me through several hands, but came
originally from Lemberg in Galitsia.  It represented a troop of
elaborately costumed performers, whom I had always taken for “counterfeit
Egyptians,” dancing and playing huge accordions on an artistically
decorated stage, and the subscription was “Gypsies from the Caucasus.”
Fardi never allowed his emotions to appear conspicuously, but it was
evident from the close scrutiny he and Lotka made of the postcard that
they were genuinely interested: “Our _Roma_,” they said, approvingly, but
without surprise.  Then they gave me the names of some of the party, and
apropos of the stage-drapery, reverted to the subject of carpets.

                 [Picture: Tinka: Photo. by Central News]

During the next few days occasional questions showed that my guests had
carried news of the picture to the camp, and that the tribe hid beneath
their affected indifference some curiosity as to how it came to be in my
possession.  But I was totally unprepared for the demonstration of deep
concern which the paltry print was to wring from the great Kola’s
dignified wife.  Taking me quietly aside she invited me to sit near her,
told me that she had heard about the photograph, and expressed a desire
to see it.  I gladly seized the opportunity to give her a cordial
invitation to come with her husband to tea.  Without such an excuse I
should not have dared to suggest a visit; for, absurd as it may seem to
those who do not know these people, I felt instinctively that the chief
and his lady were personages of rank so high that it would have been
presumptuous to ask them to my poor house.  My instinct was probably
just, for Tinka refused politely, alleging as excuse the weakness of her
chest.  Unwilling to renounce the honour of entertaining royalty, I
offered to take her and the chief by rail to Liverpool and thence to
Alfred Street in a taxicab; and, when this proposal was rejected, to
bring the taxicab to the camp, cross the river on the luggage-boat, and
take them all the way without change.  But Tinka was adamant and demanded
that the book should be brought to the tents.  The idea of subjecting my
treasured album to the eager unwashed hands of working coppersmiths did
not commend itself to me, and I replied that the book was too large and
too heavy to bring.  “Tear the page out” she ordered, royally regardless;
but I refused to mutilate the volume.  Then she begged, the queenly
Tinka, begged just as Lotka had begged for my carpet—earnestly,
eloquently, passionately, almost irresistibly.  Hardening my heart to
withstand this more than usually distressing exhibition of skill in the
ancient Gypsy accomplishment, I turned to look at my tormentor—she was
weeping bitterly!  Instead of a typical case of adroit Gypsy imposture I
had found an equally typical case of Gypsy family affection.  With a
voice broken by sobs she offered in exchange for a brief glance at the
picture, first a silver plate a foot in diameter, and then a great gold
ring such as she herself wore.  For among those whose portraits appeared
on the card was her brother, and she had not seen him for twenty years.

Need I add that in my book a blank space, of which I am prouder than of
my rarest Callot, bears witness to-day to the fact that Tinka had her
will?  “Aunt,” I said, “you have been very hospitable to me.  I do not
want your silver plate, I will not take your gold ring; but to-morrow you
shall have the little picture.”  And when I brought it, framed gaudily,
to give it some semblance of a gift for presentation to royalty, the
Gypsies crowded excitedly round, and Tinka, almost in tears again, raised
her proud hands to Heaven, and called down blessings on my head in
showers so liberal that, if but a tithe be sent, I shall be among the
most fortunate of men.

7.  THE SICK BOY. {38}

SEDATENESS was characteristic of the coppersmiths’ camp.  Even when the
air reverberated with the tapping of many hammers there was no bustle;
work went on steadily, certainly, slowly, and with dignity.  The arrival
of a stranger was the pretext for an animated and noisy chorus of begging
by the women, but on ordinary occasions the foreign Gypsies applied
themselves solemnly to labour, or still more solemnly to interminable
divans.  Blood-curdling oaths in gentle Romani were hurled even at the
spoiled children when they manifested their spirits and happiness too
noisily; yet among them there was one who was privileged to be as
troublesome as he chose without reproof, and he was the sick boy.

His exceptional position seemed to have had a malign influence on his
character, for he was not a nice child.  With the want of their robust
health he lacked also the sturdy independence of his playmates.  They
were self-reliant, forward, often impertinent, but always lovable—he was
petulant, fretful, even peevish, and instinctively one pitied rather than
liked him.  Yet in all the tribe there was nobody—man, woman, or child,
from the great chief Kola himself to the half-naked little ones—who would
have hesitated to make any effort or any sacrifice by which to mitigate
the sick boy’s distress.  To his mother he was more than all the world.
She was Zhawzha, the chief’s daughter (though to those who were not of
the _afición_, she would have called herself Sophie), a strangely
pathetic figure in whose face one could see traces of great beauty marred
by bitter anxiety for her son.  Among our first duties as friendly
visitors to the camp were those of acting as her dragoman in the local
surgery and bringing an eminent specialist from Liverpool to visit the
patient.  But we discovered gradually not only that she had consulted
other doctors in Birkenhead, but also that she had prescriptions and
drugs, enough to have stocked a pharmacy, which she had obtained from
continental physicians.  And all had prescribed bromides, prohibited
excitement, and bidden the distracted mother wait patiently and hope—for
the boy was epileptic.

He was the one disturbing influence in the tribe, and when the illness
seized him, always suddenly and unexpectedly, frantic crises of shrill
emotion broke the tranquillity of the camp.  From all sides gesticulating
women would rush screaming wildly, and the men would leave their work to
return soon after in gloomy silence bending their heads to an inevitable
fate, while the poor little figure in all the ridiculous bravery of his
gaudy clothes and pale blue plush hat would be carried under shelter and
nursed tenderly.  The distracted mother, meanwhile, would pace the
ground, her face distorted with agony, clutching convulsively at her hair
and singing a wild lament; and even the queenly Tinka would sink to the
ashes where she stood, raise her kindly face to heaven and weep aloud.
Such scenes were frequent and very painful.  Even more painful was one’s
sense of impotence afterwards, when Zhawzha offered all she had, even the
gold coins from her hair, in exchange for her boy’s health.  Time alone
could give what she demanded; but she scorned patience and would not

No cure which anybody recommended was left untried, it mattered not what
it was nor how much it cost.  And so the child wore amulets, and to the
tent-pole mysterious bunches of thorn-twigs were tied.  But the malady
was stubborn, and recourse was had to quacks who poisoned the little
fellow with excessive doses so that he ceased even to speak, and wandered
aimlessly in a comatose condition.  And then, most wonderfully—for which
of us in our own land could find, at need, a sorceress?—they discovered
that there was a witch-doctor in Bradford.  Letters were dictated,
symptoms described, medicine bought at exorbitant prices, and Harley
Street fees paid.  A lock of hair was cut and sent, untouched by human
hands, for some kind of sympathetic magic.  But this, like everything
else, failed to effect the instantaneous cure the mother demanded, and
she and her lad, with his father, a very black and rather stupid little
Gypsy named Adam Kirpatsh, journeyed to Bradford for a personal

Adam was not wealthy in the same sense as Kola, the chief, might have
been called wealthy; but he had savings, and it was pitiable to watch him
squander them in vain efforts to gratify the sick boy’s whims and set the
anxious mother’s mind at rest.  Protest was useless—equally useless to
urge a longer trial of rational treatment; he was determined that no
stone should be left unturned.  His confidence in the witch-doctor lasted
longer than his faith in any legitimate practitioner had lasted, but it
crumbled away gradually, undermined by the obvious failure of her
treatment.  And then Adam heroically resolved to incur the great expense
of taking his wife and child for a pilgrimage all the way to Czenstochowa
in Russian Poland.  The celebrated shrine has since become notorious, for
the dissolute priests robbed the holy image of its gems; but in July,
1911, it was in high repute among the Gypsies, and some of them had
pictures of the Virgin of Czenstochowa in their tents.  The journey must
have been a trying one for the invalid, but on their way home the family
rested for a while at Berlin, and Adam sent triumphant telegrams to
Birkenhead announcing that the boy was cured.

Alas!  As I approached the camp on the occasion of my first visit after
their return, the little lad saw me from a distance, and ran forward to
take my hand.  He looked well and happy, and we walked on gaily towards
the tents.  But suddenly the weight on my wrist increased, the child
seemed to stumble, and looking down I saw that he was unconscious.

Misfortune dogged that unhappy family.  Poor Zhawzha, enervated by
constant solicitude, died at Mitcham, and was buried with ceremonies the
barbaric extravagance of which was probably without parallel in this
country.  There followed unseemly bickerings about the possession of her
property and the custody of the children, and Adam parted from the band
to return to his own tribe.  But it is comforting to know that, whatever
may have happened during these days of grief, whatever sorrows the future
may hold in store, that little afflicted boy will not be allowed to
suffer unnecessarily.  May his health be restored gradually as the years
pass!  But should fate decree that he must remain infirm during all the
days of his life, it is certain that the tender care which was lavished
on the sick Gypsy by his warm-hearted compatriots when he was a child
will not be withdrawn when he becomes a grown man.

8.  A GOOD WORK. {44}

I DO not think the old Drill Hall in Birkenhead has ever been a cheerful
place: deserted by the military and transformed into a boxing booth, it
is now positively dismal.  But for two months during the summer of 1911
it was ablaze with Oriental colour.  Kola, the Gypsy chieftain, with his
tribe of coppersmiths, had taken possession of it, having left the
English Romany camp at Tranmere to make room for his brothers, Yantshi
and Yishwan, who had arrived from Marseilles with their wives, children
and followers.  The ruling family had established itself upon the high
platform where once bruisers proved their mettle, and from it the royal
tenant looked down a crooked lane bordered on either side by the tents of
his subjects.  From irregular skylights in the black roof dusty,
mysterious sunbeams fell upon gay drapery and piles of eiderdown beds
gaudily covered with scarlet and yellow stuff, on black-bearded men and
strange groups of dark women in bright red dresses loaded with gold, on
the little low round tables at which they sat cross-legged, and on the
blue tendrils of smoke that rose from their brass samovars.  In the yard
outside was the din of many hammers beating cauldrons of copper, but it
was almost drowned by a babel of shrill voices quarrelling in a strange
and strongly aspirated tongue.

                [Picture: Worsho.  Photo. by F. A. Cooper]

For all was not well in Kola’s kingdom: disaffection was brewing, and a
schism was imminent.  And in the midst of all the trouble the wife of
young Worsho Kokoiesko presented her husband with a little brown girl,
his first child.  No stranger ever knew what secret rites were practised
in the distant corner of the great barn where Worsho, as a poor relation,
lived humbly.  Mother and child were screened carefully from observation,
and the first token of the arrival of a new recruit was the healthy voice
of a crying baby.  There was no general rejoicing, no excitement; but
Worsho slipped shyly to my side and, in his rich mellow voice which
resembled singing rather than speaking, invited me to be godfather.

Thus it happened four days afterwards that I made a morning visit to the
camp ready to add to the solemnity of the occasion such dignity as a
frock-coat and top-hat could lend.  Knowing the ancient and universal
Gypsy fondness for baptism I had hoped that there would have been a
tribal festival.  It was therefore disappointing to find that the
appearance of the hall was normal, and that Worsho himself was still in
bed, although the time appointed for the ceremony was near at hand.
After some exhortation he got up, stretched himself, breakfasted
leisurely, and dressed in his ordinary clothes: but Saveta, daughter of
Michael, who was to be godmother, kept me in countenance by putting on a
white dress gaudy with floral patterns.  At last the little procession
set out for St. Werburgh’s Church—the strikingly handsome Worsho, his
young widowed sister Luba, the two godparents, Saveta’s pretty little
niece Liza, an assistant librarian from the Bodleian, and the
indispensable baby.

We were shockingly late, and on our arrival found that the christening
ceremony had already begun for the benefit of another infant.  But the
good priest left the font, came politely to the door to receive us, put
us in our places, and recommenced the service.  Although unprepared for
the solemnity and thoroughness of my godchild’s reception into the
Church, I played my unrehearsed part to the best of my ability, stumbling
only once when, some ancient memory of a grammar school in the Midlands
awaking suddenly at the command, “Say the Paternoster,” I said it
bravely—in Latin!  And indeed this fault causes my conscience less
trouble than the problem of how to fulfil my godparental obligations when
my wandering goddaughter may be anywhere at all in either hemisphere.

All Gypsies have two names, one for public, the other for private use;
and it may be that the baptismal name is the one they value least.  At
all events the duty of choosing it devolved, in this instance, on me, and
the parents gave no indication as to what were their wishes.  Unable on
the spur of the moment to remember anything really monumental, I called
the child Saveta after her godmother, and thus she was registered in the
great book when our picturesque little party withdrew to the sacristy.
The mother’s name, Anastasi Fiodorana Shodoro, was also placed on record,
the last element being probably that of the child’s maternal grandfather.
But when I began to dictate W-O-R-S-H-O, Worsho excitedly plucked my
sleeve and protested.  I had never heard him called by any other name,
and was amazed; but he produced documents and passports to prove that he
was, officially, Garaz son of Fanaz, the son of Zigano, and as “Garaz
Fanaz Zigano” he was written down.  The absence of a surname caused no
difficulties with our sympathetic Irish priest; but it was quite
otherwise when we paid a necessary visit to an ignorant registrar.  He
declared, “The man must have a surname,” and regarded the want of so
necessary a distinction as little less serious than the want of a head or
heart.  There was a column for surnames in his register, and it would
have been a scandal to leave it empty.  We filled it.

Of all the pleasant recollections associated with this adventure, one
lingers in my memory as especially bright and comforting.  When we left
the church the kindly and venerable Father, who had shepherded us so
lovingly through the ceremony, conducted us courteously to the door, held
up his hands in benediction and exclaimed in a voice that quivered with
sincerity, “You have done a good work this day.”


ALMOST a year after the arrival of the coppersmiths, old Grantsha, his
sons Fardi, Yantshi and Yishwan, and his son-in-law Yono, with their
wives and children reappeared in Liverpool, meaning to take ship and
follow Kola, who had already gone to Monte Video.  But no boat could be
found to convey them, and after waiting a week in an emigrants’
lodging-house in Duke Street, they were obliged to go by rail to Dover
and embark there.  It was a gloomy, undecorated dwelling in which they
stayed, a warren of scantily-furnished rooms, in each of which one family
camped like bears in an overcrowded menagerie.  Since there was nothing
else to do, their idle misery found expression in begging.  At home and
abroad, in season and out of season, whenever there was anybody to beg
from, they begged immoderately—all except Fardi.  He and his family were
exceptional, cultivating little courtly airs and holding themselves
somewhat aloof from the rest of the tribe; and in the matter of
respectability the chief himself could hardly hold a candle to his
brother, though they had this in common, that neither ever begged.

I spent the afternoon of the day of their departure with the
coppersmiths.  It was a naturally dispiriting afternoon of steady,
drizzling rain, and the conduct of the Gypsies made it almost
insufferably unpleasant.  Throughout a long wet promenade Milanko begged
dismally for a silk scarf.  A smaller boy, inspired by a well-founded
conviction that I would give him a cap, accompanied me and a friend when
we went home for afternoon tea.  He begged in the streets and at table as
continuously and mechanically as a Chinese praying wheel, refused food
and drink in order that his mouth might be free to exercise its main
function, and afterwards, drenched but undaunted, droned petitions during
half our walk to the station.  Yono enticed me into an apartment on the
first floor where he and his family lived, in order that we might debate
at tiresome length a proposed supplementary payment for tinning the
cauldron.  Even Fardi’s wife and daughter forgot their manners.  He
himself was out, but his women locked the door and removed the key in
order that I might not escape from their room at the top of the house
until Lotka had made a last desperate effort to become possessor of my
carpet.  They were interrupted by a loud knock, and hope rose within me
that Fardi had returned and would exercise parental authority to stop the
persecution.  But it was only patient Yono wishing to resume the
discussion about the cauldron.  As he came in I went out—against
resistance, precipitately.  Downstairs Grantsha and burly Yishwan sat in
a larger room surrounded by children, while a group of women stitched
industriously at the opposite end.  Every one of them begged.  The lads
demanded watches, cigarette-holders and silver match-boxes; even the
dotard Grantsha asked for money; Yishwan’s smallest request was for the
coat from off my back; and the girls pleaded singly and in chorus:
“Brother, why have you given me nothing?”  The attack was irresistible: I
was outnumbered, and the only alternative to surrender was flight.  So I
rose to take my leave, assisted to my feet by two impish boys who, with
apparent politeness, seized my hands and unnoticed by me cleverly stole
my silver Zodiac ring.

      [Picture: Children.  Photo, by Newspaper Illustrations, Ltd.]

The Gypsies had told me that they would go to Lime Street Station at
seven o’clock, and that their train would leave at half-past eight.
Twice before under similar circumstances they had tried to hoodwink me,
and it seemed that they had tricked me again, for when at half-past seven
I reached Lime Street there was never a gay red skirt to be seen, nor
even a braided coat.  Moreover, on inquiry, I learned that no train for
Dover left that or any other Liverpool Station at eight-thirty.  Almost
glad to escape a renewal of the afternoon’s hostilities I began to
retrace my steps.  I had not walked a couple of hundred yards when, from
afar, I spied a flash of colour so brilliant that it could have been
nothing except a Gypsy girl’s dress.  She was standing outside the
Central Station, where the tribe had assembled to wait two hours, for
their train was scheduled to start at half-past nine.  A microcosm
within, yet untouched by, the greater world, these outlandish people sat
perfectly self-possessed and completely isolated amid a throng of
inquisitive strangers whose presence imported to them as little as the
presence of the vulgar sparrows.  They were adventuring on a journey
longer than that which their ancestors undertook centuries ago when they
emigrated from India, yet they exhibited no greater emotion than if they
were changing parishes.  On the platform they had grouped themselves by
families, and behind each group was a hillock of trunks, utensils,
bedding, carpets and tents; but before I reached them Vasili and another
lad met me and, postponing my farewell interview with the elders, I
turned back with the boys to buy them cigarettes.  In the street we found
Fardi, and he accompanied us to a tobacconist.

To my surprise Fardi encouraged the boys not only to choose the most
expensive Russian cigarettes, but also to demand meerschaum holders.
That very afternoon, to distinguish him above his brethren and mark my
approval of the admirable Fardi who never begged, I had given him as
parting present a splendid guinea pipe; and now he must needs demonstrate
that he had gulled me, that though he had played a long and cunning game
of respectability he was no whit less a Gypsy than the others, and could,
when he chose, beg with the best.  My paragon produced three leather
purses which, he said most falsely, contained all the money he possessed.
Two were empty, and in the third a half-sovereign lurked among some
coppers.  He begged for a loan, and, when I refused to entertain the
idea, entreated me to buy a dress for his wife.  In the window of a shop
which was preparing to close he saw a gloriously green silk underskirt
marked “six and eleven” which was exactly what she would like; and I was
the more ready to surrender to his unexpected attack because I had given
Lotka nothing.  But when we entered the shop he saw and preferred a long
silk scarf which was attractively festooned upon a rail.  I bought it,
congratulating myself secretly that Fardi, being illiterate, would not
notice that its cost was two shillings less than that of the petticoat.
But Fardi’s sharp eyes discerned the price I paid, and immediately he
claimed the dress as well, becoming almost abusive, and telling me
plainly that I ought to be ashamed to refuse so small a favour.  It was
the revelation of a new and unsuspected Fardi—a much less comfortable
character than the Fardi who never begged.

He begged desperately and without a moment’s pause until the train left
Liverpool, ably abetted by every member of his family.  Had I yielded
Fardi would have won a barren victory, because the shop was closed and
the dress beyond our reach: but higher principles were at stake—it was a
trial of strength, and the respect in which the Gypsies held me was
threatened.  There were flank attacks by Yishwan, who wanted my watch,
and rear attacks from battalions of boys, whose demands a universal
provider would have been hard pushed to satisfy: but Lotka’s skirt was
the main objective, and, meeting all arguments, talking with marvellous
if ungrammatical fluency, and shouting as loudly as anybody, I held my
position without budging a hair’s-breadth.

Even when, with their samovars and eiderdown beds, the whole party had
been packed in the carriages, Fardi stood at a door and mischievously
continued his persecution.  But he and the others bade me a warm
farewell, wishing me brilliantly overwhelming blessings, all except Yono,
who angrily rejected my proffered hand; and as the train steamed out of
the station an impudent little boy waved from a window a grubby fist, on
one finger of which shone my stolen silver ring.


PLUMBERS, and even politicians, think meanly of Gypsies.  The _Oxford
English Dictionary_, apparently regarding them as a species of vermin
rather than a nation, denies them the barren honour which it awards to
Gallovidians, and spells their name with a little _g_.  As an old witch
complained to Lavengro, some very respectable persons go so far as to
“grudge the poor people the speech they talk among themselves,” and, like
the magistrate, brand it “no language at all, merely a made-up
gibberish.”  Mrs. Herne very properly retorted, with an ironical curtsey:
“Oh, bless your wisdom, you can tell us what our language is without
understanding it”; for to learn to understand Romani is a far easier task
than to trace it to its sources.

The central mystery of a mysterious race, it is their greatest treasure,
whether, with Borrow, we regard it as a means “to enable habitual
breakers of the law to carry on their consultations with more secrecy,”
or share the enthusiasm of scholars who have found in it the most
fascinating, yet most baffling, problem of linguistics.  On the language
of the Gypsies one of the greatest philologists wrote two volumes,
containing more than a thousand closely-printed pages, although he
confessed he had never heard it spoken; another devoted eight years to
the gradual publication of a huge quarto which, when completed, weighed
nearly a hundred ounces; and countless humbler contributors have added
their stones to the cairn of learning under which Romani lies buried.
All believed that in this unwritten tongue, the conversational currency
of “the most unfortunate and degraded of beings,” lay hid answers to
riddles which have perplexed the learned for five hundred years: Where
was the original home of the Gypsies?  When did they leave it?  By what
route did they reach Europe?  But the hopes of scholars have been
grievously disappointed, and at the end of a century of diligent gleaning
and scientific analysis the mystery of Gypsy origin is as deep as it was
at the beginning!

Far from being gibberish, Romani is an inflected language possessing more
cases for its noun than did Latin; and it is Indian, although the
Gypsies, true to their reputation, have begged words with which to
supplement their vocabulary from Persians, Greeks, Slavs and other
peoples among whom they have dwelt.  It has been said that “the Arabic of
the Bedouin in this century is incomparably more nearly identical with
that of the tribes through whose borders the children of Israel were led
by Moses than is any one of our contemporary European tongues with its
ancestor of the same remote period.”  A similar cause has enabled the
Gypsies, ever wandering, separating and reuniting, to resist more
successfully than a sedentary race could have resisted the gradual
changes which ultimately part a language into mutually incomprehensible
dialects.  Their speech is an echo which has reverberated through the
centuries, for in it may be heard ancient Indian forms that have been
lost in India itself, and dearest of all to the philologist, though most
perplexing, a number of words which are almost pure Sanskrit.  But if you
ask the linguistic student of the _Roma_ whence they come, you will
receive no reply more definite than a reference to north-west Hindustan
and the inhospitable mountains thereabouts; while for the date of the
Gypsy exodus you may choose at will any period between 300 B.C. and 1300
A.D. and find high philological authority for your choice.

To satisfy, or, better still, to stimulate curiosity about the language
of the “Brahmins of the roads,” a short nursery story in the dialect of
the coppersmiths is here reprinted from the pages of the _Journal of the
Gypsy Lore Society_, by the kind permission of Mr. E. O. Winstedt, to
whom it was dictated by one of Kola’s sons-in-law.  Most of the
consonants may, without serious error, be pronounced as in English, _r_
being rolled as in “rural,” _g_ hard as in “gas,” and s unvoiced as in
“sago.”  The symbol _zh_ represents the French _j_ or the _z_ in English
“azure,” while _sh_ is the corresponding unvoiced sound in “ash”: with
_t_ prefixed the latter becomes _tsh_, the double sound heard twice in
“church,” which would be written _tshə_(_r_)_tsh_.  In Romani the letter
_h_ is often found after _p_, _t_ and _k_, where, except in the mouths of
Irish speakers, it is not used in English.  Thus _ph_ and _th_ have not
the values they have in “philosophy” and “theology,” nor _kh_ (as in
Oriental languages) that of the _ch_ in Scottish “loch,” but the _h_ must
be sounded after the other consonant: _p+h_, _t+h_, and _k+h_.  The
vowels may be pronounced as in Italian, the additional vowel _ə_
representing the vowels in English “but” and “cur,” and the diphthongs
_ai_ and _au_ being similar to the sounds in “aisle” and “ounce.”  The
vowel in English “law” is written _aw_.  For examples the following words
may be taken:—

  _but_ (much) as “boot.”

  _hai_ (and) as “high.”

  _háide_! (come!) as “high-day.”

  _kothé_ (there) as “coat-hay.”

  _le_ (take) as “lay.”

  _meklé_ (they allowed) as “make-lay.”

  _per_ (belly) as “pair.”

  _ye_ (even) as “yea.”

The acute accents indicate the stressed syllables and do not alter the
quality of the vowels.  They were not marked in the original, and are
added here merely to assist readers and not as an accurate record of the
coppersmiths’ method of accentuation.


SAS trin phral; dúi sa godiáver, thai yek dílo.  Thai muló léngo dad.
Thai phendiá léngo dad: “Zha per talé.”  Káno vo meréla, te avél sáko
phral kothé léste.  Hai phendiá o phral o báro: “Zha tu, phrála dilíya,
k’ amáro dad.”  Liá o phral o dílo yek kash (bórta), hai thodéla po dúmo,
hai geló ka pésko dad.  Hai ushtiló lésko dad, hai diá les yek bal kálo.
Káno vo tshinól les, ənklél ándo kódo bal yek gras kálo.

Hai phendiá o əmperáto, kon khodéla ka léski rákli ándo kher, ənkəsto,
kodoléske déla.  Thai phendiá o phral o báro: “Háide! phrála, te dikás
kon khutéla ka i rákli.”  Thai phendiás o dílo: “Meg me, phrále, te dikáu
ye me kothé.”  Hai mardé lə lésko phral; tshi meklé les.  Thai liné le
dúi phral le grastén, hai gelé-tar.  Hai liás o phral o dílo o bal, hai
kerdiló léske yek gras ándo bal, hai geló-tar.  Aresliá péske do phralén,
aresló palál; hai pushlé les: “Kon tu san, manushá?”  Vo si mánush
depel-méshti (vityáz).  Hai mardé le zoralés péske phralén; hai geló-tar
ka i rákli.  Hai hukló ándo kher ka i rákli.  Hai liás la rakliá péske;
hai tshumidá les lésko sókro, le dilés.

Hai tradéla léskro sókro péske dúi zhamutrén (godiáver zhamutré) te
mudarén tshirikliá.  Hai aviló-tar o dílo ka pésko sókro əmperáto, thai
phendiá o dílo te del les púshka te mudarél ye vo tshirikliá.  Hai la o
dílo phagliás e púshka, hai geló-tar péske dúye shogorénsa.  Vo sas o
tríto.  Hai pirdé léske shogoré so (? kai) rodiás, hai tshi mudardé
kántshi tshirikliá.  Hai o dílo mudardiás le kashtésa but tshirikliá
bi-pushkáko.  Hai avilé léske shogoré, hai diklé le tshiriklián; hai den
pe dúma: “O dílo mudardiás but tshirikliá, hai amé tshi mudardiám
kantsh.”  Hai mangén le tshiriklián kátar o dílo, te del le lénge.  Hai
phendiá o dílo: “Kána la te shináv tumáro práshhau (per) le shuriása,
atúntshi dav túme le tshirikliá, hai phenáu k’ o əmperáto ke túme
mudardián le tshirikliá.”  Hai kána shindiá o práshau léngo, hai del
lénge i tshirikliá, hai gelé-tar kheré.

Hai dikliás əmperáto le but tshiriklé, hai lovodíl pésko do zhamutrén.
Hai pushél le dilés: “Tu tshi mu(da)rdán kantsh?”  Hai phenél o dílo le
əmperatóske: “Me kudalá tshirikliá me mudardém le.  Tu man tshi patshiás?
Me shindém le shuriása léngo práshau, tha dem lénge le tshirikliá.”  Hai
vasdás əmperáto léngo gad, hai dikliá léngo práshau.  E tshiriklí si but
láshi.  Hai phendiás əmperáto ke léske zhamutré: “Díle mánush! sóste von
meklé te shindiás léngro práshau?

                           Thai ma nai kantsh.


THERE were three brothers; two were wise, and one a fool.  And their
father died.  Now their father said: “I am going to take to my bed.”
When he dies, each brother is to come there to him.  And the big brother
said: “Do you go, foolish brother, to our father.”  The foolish brother
took a stick and put it on his shoulder, and went to his father.  And his
father got up, and gave him a black hair.  Whenever he cuts it, there
will come out of that hair a black horse.

Now the emperor said that whoever climbs up to his daughter in the house,
on horseback, he will give her to that one.  And the big-brother said:
“Come along, brother, let us see who will climb up to the girl.”  And the
fool said: “Let me, brothers, see whether I, too, can get there.”  And
his brothers beat him; they did not let him.  And the two brothers took
the horses, and off they went.  But the foolish brother took the hair,
and there was made for him a horse from the hair, and off he went.  He
overtook his two brothers, he caught them up from behind; and they asked
him: “Who are you, man?”  He is a hero.  And he beats them severely, his
brothers; and off he went to the girl.  And he climbed up into the house
to the girl.  And he took the girl for himself; and his father-in-law
kissed him, the fool.

And his father-in-law sends his two sons-in-law (the wise sons-in-law) to
kill birds.  And the fool came to his father-in-law, the emperor, and the
fool told him to give him a gun that he too may kill birds.  And the fool
broke the gun, and went off with his two brothers-in-law.  He was the
third.  And his brothers-in-law walked about, whom he sought, and they
did not kill any birds at all.  But the fool killed many birds with the
stick, without a gun.  And his brothers-in-law came and saw the birds;
and they say to themselves: “The fool has killed many birds, and we have
killed none.”  And they beg the birds from the fool, that he should give
them to them.  And the fool said: “When I cut your bellies with the
knife, then will I give you the birds, and I will tell the emperor that
you have killed the birds.”  And when he has cut their bellies, he gives
them the birds, and they went home.

And the emperor saw the many birds, and praises his two sons-in-law.  And
he asks the fool: “Have you killed none?”  And the fool tells the
emperor: “It was I who killed those birds.  You do not believe me?  I cut
their bellies with the knife, and gave them the birds.”  And the emperor
pulled up their shirts, and looked at their bellies.  The birds are very
good.  And the emperor said to his sons-in-law: “Silly fellows! why did
they let him cut their bellies?”

                             I have no more.

                                * * * * *

                                 THE END

                                * * * * *

 Printed by ROBERT MCGEE & CO., Ltd., 34, South Castle Street, Liverpool.


Readers who may be sufficiently interested in these strange yet
fascinating people to wish to make a closer study of them and their
speech, are referred to the able articles published by Mr. E. O. Winstedt
and the Rev. F. G. Ackerley in the _Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society_.
Information about the work of this Society and the conditions of
membership can be obtained by application to the Honorary Secretary, 21A,
Alfred Street, Liverpool.


{v}  It’s not been possible to reproduce the typography of the original.
Instead the various groups have been split into separate tables, with the
parents coming first, and the row underneath being their children, and
the row underneath that the children of the children.—DP.

{vi}  The author’s thanks are offered to the editors of _The Bazaar_,
_The Manchester Guardian_, and _The Birkenhead News_, who have most
kindly permitted him to reprint articles from their respective
publications, as well as to Mr. Fred. Shaw, Mr. F. A. Cooper, the Central
News and Newspaper Illustrations, Ltd., for leave to reproduce their
admirable photographs.

{1}  _Manchester Guardian_, Friday, August 30, 1912.

{7}  _Manchester Guardian_, Thursday, June 20, 1912.

{13}  _Birkenhead News_, Wednesday, March 26, 1913.

{32}  From _The Bazaar_, _Pictures_, _Poetry_, _Prose_, a publication
edited by Dr. William E. A. Axon and sold for the benefit of a bazaar
held at Manchester in October, 1912, in aid of the United Kingdom
Alliance, a temperance organization.

{38}  _Birkenhead News_, Saturday, March 29, 1913.

{44}  _Birkenhead News_, Saturday, March 1, 1913.

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