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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

I asked the fellow with the thimbles


the beginning of 1842, I fell in with six of these thimble-riggers and chain-droppers, on Newhaven road, on their way to Edinburgh. I was anxious to discover the nature of their conversation, and kept as close to them as I could, without exciting their suspicions. Like that of most people brought up in one particular line of life, their conversation related wholly to their own trade--that of swindling, theft, and robbery. I overheard them speaking of "bloody swells," and of dividing their booty. One of them was desired by the others to look after a certain steamboat, expected to arrive, and to get a bill to ascertain its movements exactly. He said he would "require three men to take care of that boat"; meaning, as I understood him, that all these men were necessary for laying his snares, and executing his designs upon the unsuspecting passengers, as they landed from the vessel, and were on their way to their destinations. The manager of the steamboat company could not have consulted with his subordinates, about their lawful affairs, with more care and deliberation, or in a more cool, business-like way, than were these villains in contriving plans for plundering the public. On their approach to Pilrig street, the band separated into pairs; some taking the north, and some the south, side of Leith walk, for Edinburgh, where they vanished in the crowd. Their language was fearful, every expression being accompanied by a terrible oath.

On another occasion,

I fell in with another band of these vagabond thimble-men, on the Dalkeith road, near Craigmiller Castle. I asked the fellow with the thimbles, "Is that _gaugie a nawken_?" pointing to one of the gang who had just left him. The question, in plain English, was, "Is that man a Gipsy?" The thimbler flew at once into a great passion, and bawled out, "Ask himself, sir." He then fell upon me, and a gentleman who was with me, in most abusive language, applying to us the most insulting epithets he could think of. It was evident to my friend that the thimble-man perfectly understood my Gipsy question. So enraged was he, that we were afraid he would follow us, and do us some harm. My friend did not consider himself safe till he was in the middle of Edinburgh, for many a look did he cast behind him, to see whether the Gipsy was not in pursuit of us.[215]

[215] There is a Gipsy belonging to one of these bands, known by the soubriquet of the "winged duck," from having lost an arm, of whom I have often heard our author speak. He is what may be called the captain of the company. A description of him, and his way of life, may be interesting, inasmuch as it illustrates a class of Scottish Gipsies at the present day.

About the year 1853, three young gentlemen, from the town of Leith, had occasion to take a stroll over Arthur's Seat, a hill that overhangs Edinburgh, on the east side of the city. In climbing the hill,

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