“Your wife! who, then, is she?” inquired I, as I put my head through the smock frock.
“She is a great personage among the gipsies. She is, by descent, one of the heads of the tribe, and none dare to disobey her.”
“And you—are you a gipsy?”
“No, and yes. By birth I am not, but by choice, and marriage, I am admitted; but I was not born under a hedge, I can assure you, although I very often pass a night there now—that is, when I am domestic; but do not think that you are to remain long here; we shall leave in a few days, and may not meet the tribe again for months, although you may see my own family occasionally. I did not ask you to join me to pass a gipsy’s life—no, no, we must be stirring and active. Come, we are now close to them. Do not speak as you pass the huts, until you have entered mine. Then you may do as you please.”
We turned short round, passed through a gap in the hedge, and found ourselves on a small retired piece of common, which was studded with about twenty or thirty low gipsy huts. The fires were alight and provisions apparently cooking. We passed by nine or ten, and obeyed our guide’s injunctions, to keep silence. At last we stopped, and perceived ourselves to be standing by the fool, who was dressed like us, in a smock frock, and Mr Jumbo, who was very busy making the pot boil, blowing at the sticks underneath till he was black in the face. Several of the men passed near us, and examined us with no very pleasant expression of countenance; and we were not sorry to see our conductor, who had gone into the hut, return, followed by a woman, to whom he was speaking in the language of the tribe. “Nattee bids you welcome,” said he, as she approached.
Never in my life will the remembrance of the first appearance of Nattee, and the effect it had upon me, be erased from my memory. She was tall, too tall, had it not been for the perfect symmetry of her form. Her face of a clear olive, and oval in shape; her eyes jetty black; nose straight, and beautifully formed; mouth small, thin lips, with a slight curl of disdain, and pearly teeth. I never beheld a woman of so commanding a presence. Her feet were bare, but very small, as well as her hands. On her fingers she wore many rings, of a curious old setting, and a piece of gold hung on her forehead, where the hair was parted. She looked at us, touched her high forehead with the ends of her fingers, and waving her hand gracefully, said, in a soft voice, “You are welcome,” and then turned to her husband, speaking to him in her own language, until by degrees they separated from us in earnest conversation.
She returned to us after a short time, without her husband, and said, in a voice, the notes of which were indeed soft, but the delivery of the words was most determined; “I have said that you are welcome; sit down, therefore, and share with us—fear nothing, you have no cause to fear. Be faithful, then, while you serve him, and when you would quit us, say so, and receive your leave to depart; but if you attempt to desert us without permission, then we shall suspect that you are our enemies, and treat you accordingly. There is your lodging while here,” continued she, pointing to another hut. “There is but one child with you, this boy (pointing to Jumbo), who can lay at your feet. And now join us as friends. Fleta, where are you?”