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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Although Gipsies are very ready witted


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or Gipsy language having as yet been submitted to the public. Some of the former I committed to memory, and used, intermixed with English words, in questions I would put to the Scottish Gipsies. In this way, one word would lead to another. I would address them in a confident and familiar manner, as if I were one of themselves, and knew exactly who they were, and all about them. I would, for instance, ask them: Have you a _grye_ (horse)? How many _chauvies_ (children) have you? Where is your _gaugie_ (husband)? Do you sell _roys_ (spoons)? Being taken completely by surprise, they would give me at once a true answer. For, being the first, as far as I know, to apply the language of the Gipsies of the continent to our own tribes, they could naturally have no hesitation in replying to my questions; although they would wonder what kind of a Gipsy I could possibly be--dressed, as I was, in black, with black neck-cloth, and no display of linen, save a ruffled breast, thick-soled shoes and gaiters. The consequence was, I became a character of interest to many of the Gipsies to be found in a circuit of many miles; and great wonder was excited in their untutored minds, leading to a desire to see, and know something of, the _Riah Nawken_, or the gentleman Gipsy. On such occasions, I would treat them as I would land a fish--give them hook and line enough. But the circumstance was to them something incomprehensible, for, although Gipsies are very ready-witted, and possess great natural resources, in thieving, and playing tricks of every kind, and great tact in getting out of difficulties of that nature--which, with them, are matters of instinct, training, and practice--their whole mind being bent, and exclusively employed, in that direction, it was almost impossible for them to form any intelligible opinion as to my true character, provided I was any way discreet in disguising my real position among them. As little chance was there of any of themselves informing the others of what assistance they had inadvertently been to me, in getting at their language. Some of them might have an idea that one of their race had, in their own way of thinking, peached, turned traitor to their blood, and let the cat out of the bag. At times, if they happened to see me approach them, so as to have an opportunity to scrutinize me--which they are much given to, with people generally--they would not be so easily disconcerted at any question put to them in their language; but the result would be either direct replies, or the most ludicrous scenes of surprise and terror imaginable, which, to be enjoyed, were only to be seen, but could not be described, although the sequel will in some measure illustrate them. At other times, if I addressed a Gipsy in his own language, and spoke to him in a kind and familiar manner, as if I had been soothing a wild and unmanageable horse, before mounting him, he would either very awkwardly pretend not to understand what I meant, or, with a downcast and guilty look, and subdued voice, immediately answer my Gipsy words in English. But if I put the words to him in an abrupt, hasty, or threatening manner, he would either take to his heels, or turn upon me, like a tiger, and pour out upon me a torrent of abusive language. The following instances will show the manner in which my use of their language was sometimes appreciated by the female Gipsies.


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