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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Exactly as a glazier runs his diamond over a sheet of glass


in their old age, to support,

outwardly, a pretty fair character, although under considerable suspicion. The captains were generally well dressed, and could not be taken for Gipsies. The youths varied in age from ten to thirty years. They travelled to fairs singly, or at least never above two together, while their captains almost always rode on horse-back, but never in company with any of their men.[117] The band consisted of a great number of individuals, and in a fair several of these companies would be present; each company acting independent of the others, for behoof of its own members and chief. Each chief, on such occasions, had his own headquarters, to which his men repaired with their booty, as fast as they obtained it. Some of the chiefs, handsomely dressed, pretended to be busily employed in buying and selling horses, but were always ready to attend to the operations of their tribe, employed in plundering in the market. The purses were brought to the horse-dealer by the members of his band, who, to prevent being discovered, pretended to be buying horses from him, while communicating with him relative to their peculiar vocation. When a detection was likely to take place, the chief mounted a good horse, and rode off to a distant part of the country, previously made known to his men, with the whole of the booty in his custody. To this place the band, when all was quiet, repaired, and received their share of the plunder. They could communicate information to one another by signs, to say nothing of their
language, which frequently enabled them to get the start of their pursuers. Like the fox, the dog, and the _corbie_, they frequently concealed their stolen articles in the earth. Parties of them would frequently commence sham fights in markets, to facilitate the picking of the pockets of the people, while crowded together to witness the scuffles.

[117] An old Gipsy told me that he had seen one of the principal chiefs, dressed like a gentleman, travelling in a post-chaise, for the purpose of attending fairs.

[Vidocq, of the French secret police, thus writes of the Hungarian Gipsies, visiting the west of Europe: Raising my eyes towards a crowd in front of a menagerie, I perceived one of the _false jockeys_ taking the purse of a fat glazier, whom we saw the next moment seeking for it in his pocket; the _Bohemian_ then entered a jeweller's shop, where were already two of the _pretended Zealand peasants_, and my companion assured me that he would not come out until he had pilfered some of the jewels that were shown to him. In every part of the fair where there was a crowd, I met some of the lodgers of the Duchess, (the inn kept by a Gipsy woman in which he had spent the previous night.)--ED.]

Many of the male Gipsies used a piece of strong leather, like a sailmaker's palm, having a short piece of sharp steel, like the point of a surgeon's lancet, where the sailmaker has his thimble. The long sleeves of their coats concealed the instrument, and when they wished to cut a purse out of an arm-pocket, they stretched out the arm, and ran it flatly and gently along the cloth of the coat, opposite the pocket of the individual they wished to plunder. The female Gipsies wore, upon their forefingers, rings of a peculiar construction, yet nothing unusual in their appearance, excepting their very large size. On closing the hand, the pressure upon a spring sent forth, through an aperture or slit in the ring, a piece of sharp steel, something like the manner in which a bee thrusts out and withdraws its sting. With these ingenious instruments the female Gipsies cut the outside of the pockets of their victims, exactly as a glazier runs his diamond over a sheet of glass. The opening once made by the back of the forefinger, the hand, following, was easily introduced into the pocket. In the midst of a crowded fair, the dexterous Gipsies, with their nimble fingers, armed with these invisible instruments, cut the pocket-books and purses of the honest farmers, as if they had been robbed by magic. So skillful were the wife and one of the sisters of Charles Wilson, in the art of thieving, that although the loss of the pocket-book was, in some instances, immediately discovered, nothing was ever found upon their persons by which their guilt could be established. No instrument appeared in their possession with which the clothes of the plundered individuals could have been cut, as no one dreamt that the rings on their fingers contained tools so admirably adapted for such purposes.


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