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which I much admire, an untamed lordliness in their motions, and a kind of forest dignity in their independent deportmenta something smacking of the grace of the free fallow-deerwhich you rarely see in the inhabitants of cities. They are only seen to advantage in the wild wood, on the skirts of the lonely forest, or when traversing the wide moors and heaths : they are component parts of the picture : their loose, careless costume, their women with red cloaks and olive countenances, their trains of donkeys and camp equipage, always produce a pictorial effect in such scenery. They have always an eye to the romantic, erecting their camps in situations the most beautiful : the forest glade, the grassy lane, the corner of a wild heath, shadowed by some picturesque tree, a lane hidden by high hedges, a hollow in the hills, or the winding path of a wood, are to them welcome and lovely homes.
The mode in which we should first introduce ourselves to these denizens of the forest was far more perplexing than if we had to face a monarch, or, what is more, a man of genius—a Shakspeare or a Milton. We knew that we had no right to intrude upon their flowery threshold—that their grassy hearth was as much their own as the marble one of a marquis—that they shunned the haunts of men in order to be alone, and but rarely entered the houses of others except on errands of business, and that they had every reason to look upon intruders like ourselves with suspicion. I was not altogether a stranger to their habits, for when a boy, hungry and weary with bird-nesting, I have been welcorned to their camps, have partaken of their food, played with their ragged children, rode upon their dogs and donkeys, and fallen asleep upon their brown tent-blankets : I have even now a love for the vagrants. We approached the huge fire without appearing to be the least daunted, although we felt so, and, throwing off all restraint, determined to mould ourselves as much as possible to their manners.
“You've been very merry,” said my companion, taking up a burning branch and lighting a cigar : but the deep and angry
bay of several rough dogs was the only answer he received to his remark, until a few kicks from a tall gipsy, and “ Lay down, Lounger, Crab, and Vixen !” had in a measure soothed the angry voices of these able defenders, who retired growling, as if they would rather bite than make peace with strangers.
“Yes, sir, we are not often sad,” replied a good-looking, dark-eyed gipsy-girl as soon as the dogs were quiet. “Will you sit down and warm you ?—the night air is rather cold.”
My companion seated himself beside her upon a pile of sods, but not without a frowning look from a young man who was busied in cutting a smooth head to an immense stick, or club rather, so thick and knotted was its appearance.
“Have you got any pipes, old friend ?” said I, addressing an old man who had several times attempted to light his own, which was very short, and seemed to contain but little tobacco.
“Yes, plenty—but no 'bacca," was the reply.
I then produced a well-filled pouch of real canaster, and throwing my cigar into the fire, seized upon a short clean pipe, selecting it from a handful presented by the pretty gipsy-girl. Several others also took pipes, both men and women, and we all seated ourselves around the fire, smoking and talking as we chose ; while the red light flashing upon the dark trees, and the white smoke curling towards the starry sky—the outstretched dogs, and wild countenances of the gipsies, formed a picture which Salvator Rosa would not have passed without sketching. There were three tents standing in a triangular form, the entrance to each fronting the fire: they were built much after the form of a waggon-tilt, the bows forming arches, which were covered with blankets or oil-cloth, that rendered them proof against the rain. Around the fire were placed bundles of reeds and straw, and turf seats, and a kind of slight fence joined each of the tents : this fence was covered with long rushes thrown over the broken branches of trees, and was meant to
as a shelter from the wind. There was also a tem
porary tent erected between the two larger ones, which was very narrow, and covered more carefully than the others; and between the half-drawn curtains were seen portions of a white pillow, and a cleaner-looking rug than any of the other tents possessed. The cackling of hens and ducks seemed to issue from some part of the outer works, and once we heard distinctly the squeak of a little pig; but as the old woman shouted to the children who were between the blankets to be still, we made no remarks upon these sounds. Sometimes, indeed, a little brown brat would thrust his head and shoulders from out the blankets, show his white teeth and dark eyes, and then dive under them again, or keep a look-out from some of the eyelets, of which there was no lack.
A tall, thin, aged woman was busily engaged in superintending the supper, which was boiling in a large iron pan suspended from three strong stakes by a chain : she bore no bad resemblance to one of the witches in Macbeth bending over the bubbling caldron. Another was watching the progress of some hedgehogs (or urchins), which were simmering in a frying-pan over some embers drawn apart from the edge of the larger fire. One of the gipsies offered me the leg of a hedgehog, which I tasted, and found it to vary but little from the flavour of a young pig. It is in winter that they consider them in season, when they are very fat: there appeared to be no lack of lard in the pan-no doubt fortune-telling had extracted this from some farmer's larder. An old man, whose face I fancied had been familiar to me in my boyish days, sat with folded arms bending over the fire: once or twice he looked upon my face, but spoke not a word. Three gipsy-girls sat together, and when we first entered the encampment were amusing themselves with cards : one of them, whose hair was as “ dark as the longest night," sat swaying herself to and fro, and endeavoured by this motion, and a low wild air which she chanted, to bring slumber upon a pair of little eyes that peeped brightly out from under the
folds of her silk handkerchief; but the little gipsy had no inclination to sleep, and only kept up a kind of low chorus to his mother's sweet notes. Two or three lounging fellows were half-reclined before the fire, smoking, with one elbow resting on the ground, and supporting their heads on one hand, while with the other they kept heaping huge branches on the flames. One of them amused himself by calling a dog to him, and when the animal approached, whiffed a volume of smoke in his face, which acted like snuff upon the nasal organs of his shaggy companion. Another, whose name was Hector, and whose form would not have disgraced that famous hero, quietly allowed another dog to lick his face, which was in no wise of the cleanest. Apart from all the rest sat the fair stranger of whom our host had spoken: she appeared to be about twenty, and was exceedingly beautiful, with long light hair, and large expressive eyes, which were often turned towards my companion, who was not backward in returning glance for glance.
We despatched two of the gipsies, with an order for ale, to the public-house, on our first arriving at the camp.
They are a long time bringing the drink,” said I, for want of a better subject to converse upon, well knowing that the distance prevented their returning so soon: they are a long time : surely no one has run away with them ?”
“ 'Tis neither two nor three would run away with Israel and Gibeon,” answered the young mother, who had succeeded in getting her child to sleep. “ Besides, they have got Vixen with them ; and he would tear any man down. He did once seize a gamekeeper by the collar, who was peeping through the back of our camp like a thief, instead of coming forward like a gentleman and giving us good-even: I dare say the dog thought that he intended to steal the donkeys !**
“ He would be a cunning dog,” said I, “ to distinguish a thief from an honest man; and if we are to be tried by the same rule, our reception by the dogs was not very flattering.” “ Nay!" answered she, “the dogs always bark at the ap
pearance of strangers ; but from the manner in which Lounger has been climbing about and fondling you, I believe he considers
honest.” “ I imagine," answered my companion, laughing, “ that my friend is principally indebted to the remains of a biscuit for the good-will that now reigns between him and Lounger.”
“ That I can answer for,” replied the fair girl: “for the dog brought me a portion, and laid it at my feet.”
Israel and Gibeon had by this time returned with the liquor, and every earthen vessel was soon called into use, for the hasty supper had been despatched during their absence; nor had mine host allowed them to depart without partaking of his cold ham, a considerable portion of which he had cut into sandwiches and sent down with the ale. The time passed away merrily: song followed song, and the old man produced his fiddle, while we danced upon the long grass to its squeaking sounds, amid the clapping of little hands; for every gipsy brat had withdrawn the curtains of the tents, and sat up between the blankets, laughing and shouting, and participating in the mirth as much as if they had been actors in it.
The fair stranger proved to be a farmer's daughter, who was married to Hector, preferring the privations of a gipsy life to the comforts of her father's house. Indeed Hector had long borne away the bell from every fair and race throughout many counties by wrestling and fighting, and was competent to protect her even in a gipsy camp, as few of his tribe would dare to insult one so well able to defend himself. Abigail, the old gipsy woman, told her best tales ; and the girls, after dancing with us, sang their sweetest songs, while their lovers or husbands joined in the chorus. The old wood rang with our merriment ; and if any stranger had passed at the time, he might have deemed that another Robin Hood, with “his merry men all,” had again taken up his abode in the greenwood.
We were requested to sing, and, falling in with the humour of our jovial comrades, gave the following ditty :-