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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

With the soople below his jacket


We

have already seen that the female Gipsies are nearly as expert at handling the cudgel, and fully as fierce and unyielding in their quarrels and conflicts, as the males of their race. The following particulars relative to a Gipsy scuffle, derived from an eye-witness, will illustrate how a Gipsy woman, of the name of Rebecca Keith, displayed no little dexterity in the effective use which she made of her bludgeon.

Two gangs of Gipsies, of different tribes, had taken up their quarters, on a Saturday, the one at the town of Dumblane, the other at a farm-steading on the estate of Cromlix, in the neighbourhood. On the Sunday following, the Dumblane horde paid a visit to the others, at their country quarters. The place set apart for their accommodation was an old kiln, of which they had possession, where they were feasted with abundance of savoury viands, and regaled with mountain dew, in copious libations, of quality fit for a prince. The country squad were of the Keith fraternity, and their queen, or head personage, at the time, was Rebecca Keith, past the middle age, but of gigantic stature, and great muscular power. In the course of their carousal, a quarrel ensued between the two gangs, and a fierce battle followed. The Keiths were the weaker party, but Becca, as she was called by the country people, performed prodigies of valour, against fearful odds, with only the aid of her strong, hard-worn shoe, which she wielded with the dexterity and effect

of an experienced cudgelist. She appeared, however, unable much longer to contend against her too numerous opponents. Being a great favourite with all, especially with the inmates of the farm which was the scene of encounter, two young boys--the informant and the herd-callant--who witnessed the engagement, and whose sympathy was altogether on the side of the valourous Becca, exchanged a hurried and whispering remark to each other that, "if she had the _soople_ of a flail, they thought she would do gude wark." No sooner said than done. The herd-boy went off at once to the barn, cut the thongs asunder, and returned, in a twinkling, with the soople below his jacket, concealing it from view, with the cunning of a thief. Edging up to Becca, and uncovering the end of the weapon, it was seized upon by her with avidity. She flourished it in the air, and plied it with such effect, about the ears of her adversaries, that they were speedily driven off the field, with "sarks full of sore bones." In this furious manner would the friendly meetings of the Gipsies frequently terminate.[129]

[129] It is astonishing how trifling a circumstance will sometimes set such Gipsies by the ears. In England, they will frequently "cast up" the history of their respective families on such occasions. "What was your father, I would like to know? He hadn't even an ass to carry his traps, and was a rogue at that, you ---- Gipsy. _My_ father was an honest man." "_Honest_ man?"--"Yes, honest man, and that's more than you can say of your kin." The other, having more of "the blood," will taunt his acquaintance with some such expression as "Gorgio like," (like the white.)--"And what are you, you black trash? Will blood put money in your pocket? Blood, indeed! I'm a better Gipsy than you are, in spite of the black devil that every one sees in your face!" Then the fray commences.

When Gipsies take up their quarters on the premises of country people, a very effectual way of sometimes getting rid of them is to stir up discord among them. For when it comes to "hammers and tongs," "tongs and hammers," they will scatter, uttering howls of vengeance, on some more appropriate occasion, against their most intimate friends, who have just incurred their wrath, yet who will be seen "cheek by jowl" with them, perhaps, the next day, or even before the sun has gone down upon them; so easily are they sometimes irritated, and so easily reconciled.--ED.


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