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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Unsuspecting countryman did not know of his loss


of making themselves expert

thieves. They frequently practised themselves by picking the pockets of each other. Sometimes a pair of breeches were made fast to the end of a string, suspended from a high part of the tent, kiln, or outhouse in which they happened to be encamped. The children were set at work to try if they could, by sleight of hand, abstract money from the pockets of the breeches hanging in this position, without moving them. Sometimes they used bells in this discipline. The children who were most expert in abstracting the money in this manner, were rewarded with applause and presents; while, on the other hand, those who proved awkward, by ringing the bell, or moving the breeches, were severely chastised. After the youths were considered perfect in this branch of their profession, a purse, or other small object, was laid down in an exposed part of the tent or camp, in view of all the family. While the ordinary business of the Gipsies was going forward, the children again commenced their operations, by exerting their ingenuity and exercising their patience, in trying to carry off the purse without being perceived by any one present. If they were detected, they were again beaten; but if they succeeded unnoticed, they were caressed and liberally rewarded. As far as my information goes, this systematic training of the Gipsy youth was performed by the chief female of the bands. These women seem to have had great authority over their children. Ann Brown, of the Lochgellie tribe, could, by a single
stamp of her foot, cause the children to crouch to the ground, like trembling dogs under the lash of an angry master. The Gipsies, from these constant trainings, became exceedingly dexterous at picking pockets. The following instance of their extraordinary address in these practices, will show the effects of their careful training, as well as exhibit the natural ingenuity which they will display in compassing their ends.

A principal male Gipsy, of a very respectable appearance, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, happened, on a market day, to be drinking in a public-house, with several farmers with whom he was well acquainted. The party observed, from the window, a countryman purchase something at a stand in the market, and, after paying for it, thrust his purse into his watch-pocket, in the band of his breeches. One of the company remarked that it would be a very difficult matter to rob the cautious man of his purse, without being detected. The Gipsy immediately offered to bet two bottles of wine that he would rob the man of his purse, in the open and public market, without being perceived by him. The bet was taken, and the Gipsy proceeded about the difficult and delicate business. Going up to the unsuspecting man, he requested, as a particular favour, if he would ease the stock about his neck, which buckled behind--an article of dress at that time in fashion. The countryman most readily agreed to oblige the stranger gentleman--as he supposed him to be. The Gipsy, now stooping down, to allow his stock to be adjusted, placed his head against the countryman's stomach, and, pressing it forward a little, he reached down one hand, under the pretence of adjusting his shoe, while the other was employed in extracting the farmer's purse. The purse was immediately brought into the company, and the cautious, unsuspecting countryman did not know of his loss, till he was sent for, and had his property returned to him.

The Gipsy youth, trained from infancy to plunder, in the manner described, were formed into companies or bands, with a captain at their head. These captains were generally the grown-up sons of the old chieftains, who, having been themselves leaders in their youth, endeavoured,


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