“Avali—that’s it, the Creation. Well, them crow-swaglers was kaired at the same time; they’re hundreds—avali—thousands of beshes (years) old. And sometimes we call the beng (devil) a swagler, or we calls a swagler the beng.”
“Because the devil lives in smoke.”
CHAPTER III. THE GIPSY TINKER.
Difficulty of coming to an Understanding with Gipsies.—The Cabman.—Rommany for French.—“Wanderlust.”—Gipsy Politeness.—The Tinker and the Painting.—Secrets of Bat-catching.—The Piper of Hamelin, and the Tinker’s Opinion of the Story.—The Walloon Tinker of Spa.—Argot.
One summer day in London, in 1871, I was seated alone in an artist’s studio. Suddenly I heard without, beneath the window, the murmur of two voices, and the sleepy, hissing, grating sound of a scissors-grinder’s wheel.
By me lay a few tools, one of which, a chisel, was broken. I took it, went softly to the window, and looked down.
There was the wheel, including all the apparatus of a travelling tinker. I looked to see if I could discover in the two men who stood by it any trace of the Rommany. One, a fat, short, mind-his-own-business, ragged son of the roads, who looked, however, as if a sturdy drinker might be hidden in his shell, was evidently not my “affair.” He seemed to be the “Co.” of the firm.
But by him, and officiating at the wheeling smithy, stood a taller figure—the face to me invisible—which I scrutinised more nearly. And the instant I observed his hat I said to myself, “This looks like it.”
For dilapidated, worn, wretched as that hat was, there was in it an attempt, though indescribably humble, to be something melo-dramatic, foreign, Bohemian, and poetic. It was the mere blind, dull, dead germ of an effort—not even life—only the ciliary movement of an antecedent embryo—and yet it had got beyond Anglo-Saxondom. No costermonger, or common cad, or true Englishman, ever yet had that indefinable touch of the opera-supernumerary in the streets. It was a sombrero.
“That’s the man for me,” I said. So I called him, and gave him the chisel, and after a while went down. He was grinding away, and touched his hat respectfully as I approached.
Now the reader is possibly aware that of all difficult tasks one of the most difficult is to induce a disguised Gipsy, or even a professed one, to utter a word of Rommany to a man not of the blood. Of this all writers on the subject have much to say. For it is so black-swanish, I may say so centenarian in unfrequency, for a gentleman to speak Gipsy, that the Zingaro thus addressed is at once subjected to morbid astonishment and nervous fears, which under his calm countenance and infinite “cheek” are indeed concealed, but which speedily reduce themselves to two categories.