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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Now thimble rigging is the game


they observed, a little way

before them, a man toiling up the ascent, whom they did not notice till they came close upon him, and who had evidently been laying off on the side of the path, and entered it as they approached it. He appears about sixty years of age, is well dressed, and carries a fine cane, which he keeps pressing into the ground, to help him up the hill. Just as they make up to him, he abruptly stops, and turns round, so as almost to touch them. "Hech, how! I'm blown, I'm blown; I'm fairly done up. Young gentlemen, you have the advantage of me; I'm getting old, and it is hard for me to climb the hill." (Blown, done up, indeed! The fellow has stamina enough to outclimb any of them for years yet.) An agreeable conversation ensues, such as at once gains for him the confidence of the youths. He appears to them so mild, so bland, so fatherly, so worthy of respect, in short, a "nice old cove," who is evidently enjoying his _otium cum dignitate_ in his old age, in some cottage near by, upon a pension, an annuity, or a moderate competency of some sort. During the conversation, he manages to ascertain that his young friends have not been on the hill for some time--that one of them, indeed, has never been there before. All at once he exclaims, "Ah! what can this be? Let us go and see." Upon which they step forward to look at a person like a mechanic playing at the thimbles. Placing his arm around the neck of one of the young men, he begins to moralize: "Pray,
young gentlemen, don't bet, (they had not shown the least symptoms of doing that;) it's wrong to bet; it's a thing I never do; I would advise you not to do it. This is a rascally thimbler; he'll cheat, he'll rob you." At this time there are three playing at the board, winning and losing money rapidly. The "old cove" becomes impatient to be gone, and motions so as to imply, "Boys, let us go, let us go." Moving a few steps forward, he halts to admire the scenery, (but casts a leering eye in the direction of the board.) "Ah! there's another goose gone to be plucked; let us see what luck he meets with."

Now thimble rigging is the game, of all others, by which the uninitiated can be duped. They see the pea put under one of the thimbles, (nutshells they are, indeed;) there seems to be no doubt of that. The thimbles are then so gently moved, that any one can follow them. The pea is not afterwards tampered with--that is evident. All, then, that remains to be done, is to lift the thimble under which the pea is, and secure your prize. But the thimble man, with his long nail, and nimble finger, has secured the pea under his nail, or, with the crook of his little finger, thrust it into the palm of his hand, while he pretended to cover it with the thimble. An accomplice, to make doubly sure of the pea being under the thimble, lifts it, and shows a pea, which he, by sleight of hand, drops, and, while pretending to cover it, as nimbly takes it up again.

Betting and playing go on as before. The player makes some fine hauls, but loses a game. He swears that foul play has been used. An altercation follows. The man at the board gets excited, and to show that he really is honourable in his playing, exclaims, "Well, sir, there's your money again; try another game if you have a mind." "Now that is really honest, and no mistake about it," remarks the "old cove." Then the thimbler averts his head, to speak to a person behind him, and the "old cove" slyly lifts a thimble and shows the pea, and whispers very confidentially to his friends, "Now, young gentlemen, you can safely bet a few shillings on that." They shake their heads, however, for they know too much about thimbling. The "old cove" now gets fidgety, and, managing to edge a little away from the board, commences, in a subdued tone, to speak, in a strange gibberish, to another bystander; but, forgetting himself, drops a word rather louder than the others, on which, as he turns round and catches the eyes of his young friends, he coughs and hems. On hearing the gibberish, a fear steals over the young men, on finding themselves surrounded by a band of desperadoes, in so solitary a place, and they make haste to be off. But the "old cove," to quiet their suspicions, accompanies them to a convenient spot, where he leaves them, to go to his home, by a side-path that soon leads him out of sight. On separating, he looks around him at the scenery, now lets fall his stick, now picks up something, that he may, with less suspicion, watch the movements of his escaped victims. They feel a singular relief in getting rid of his company, and, with tact, dog him over the hill, till they see him go back to the thimblers. They then think over their adventure, and the strange jargon they have heard, and unanimously exclaim, "Wasn't he a slippery old serpent, after all!"


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