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J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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"Leave to sit down by your cheerful fire a little," I replied. They
were in no hurry to extend this permission to us, but by the time that
Cynthia with excellent tact had greatly admired the babe in its
mother's arms, and I, who amongst my accomplishments pride myself as
being somewhat of an amateur of the flute, had pieced that instrument
together, for its owner did not appear to understand much about it, and
had been at pains to make ourselves agreeable to our company in several
ways, their gruff reserve grew sensibly less. And shortly, so much did
our addresses have their effect, that we found ourselves seated around
the fire, with a pleasant odour of cookery tickling our noses. For
after all bread and cheese and ale, although excellent in themselves to
be sure, do not form a very enduring diet.

By the time the meal was ready the moon had risen. Sitting in the
midst of these strange gypsy people, beside a bright fire that threw up
its flames to the open fields, and clothed trees and hedges and the sky
itself with a vagueness and mystery that we had never noticed in them
before, we became possessed with a sense of the weirdness of the shapes
about us. They made the folk we had come amongst seem more singular
than they might otherwise have appeared. However, the meal we
presently partook of in their company did much to alleviate this
feeling of strangeness. When the lid was taken off the hissing
cauldron, and platters, spoons and knives were produced, the circle
about the fire was increased by the arrival of other gypsies of various
ages and both sexes.

As their guests, they had the courtesy to serve us first. From the pot
was produced a hot and grateful mess, that to persons with appetites
sharpened to the degree that ours were, was deliriously palatable. It
appeared to consist of fowls, mutton, hares, onions, and potatoes, and
probably other meats and vegetables not so easy to detect. We were
also given some excellent ale in a great horn tumbler, and a hunch of
barley bread apiece. We feasted indeed on the liberal fare, and were
fain to pay a second visit to the cauldron.

It was to be remarked that our entertainers were much better disposed
toward us after supper than before. Their suspicion and reserve melted
more and more, and instead of using the Romany language, ordered their
conversation in ours, that we might take some profit of their
intercourse. They all showed this amenable disposition with the
exception of the old crone, who had supped only on tobacco, preferring
her pipe to the lustier fare of the cauldron. She would have none of
us. We could clearly see the expression of her lowering, tawny face,
since she sat opposite to us, full in the glare of the fire. This
indifference to us was more than passive. We discerned with some
uneasiness that it amounted to positive dislike. She would stare at us
whole minutes together, while a concentrated malignity came into her
already sufficiently ugly face. She would then mutter incoherently
under her breath. Once she spat venomously into the fire. At last,
after staring at us longer and more resentfully than usual, she
clutched a fellow who sat beside her fiercely by the arm. She talked
to him with great energy, and ended with something that sounded of the
nature of an imprecation. As she did so she shook her finger at our
faces. Whatever her communication was, the man was much discomposed by
it. He nodded, infused a certain malignity too in the look with which
he regarded us, and then addressed several of his companions very much
in the manner that the old woman had addressed him.

Cynthia, who had observed these signs as keenly as I had, grew alarmed.
Nor was this unreasonable in her, for such were the weight of the old
crone's objections to us, whatever their nature, that before long they
had spread to the whole community. Thus we soon found ourselves in the
unpleasant position of being the cynosure of all their eyes, the
objects at which their fingers were wagged, and against whom their
passionate talk was directed. But we suffered from the additional
misfortune of being unable to understand a single word, and were thus
quite at a loss to know wherein we had offended. It was the man with
the flute who presently enlightened us. Probably his devotion to
music, one of the liberal arts, gave him a more humane cast than his
brethren. Indeed at this moment he alone seemed friendly towards us.

"Old Goody does not like the set o' ye," says he. "You will bring
ill-luck upon us wandering folk, she thinks."

"What does she object to in us?"

"Nay," says he, "that is more than I can say. She is as full of
prediction, whimsies, and foreboding as a dog-fox is of cunning. She
has lived a long while, d'ye see, and can read the signs. She has
forseen many a corpse, by looking at the moon. Many's the man-child
she's brought into the world. And only last year when she heard the
wind soughing through the branches, she told not only the day but the
very hour that Jerry Boswell came to be hanged."

This sinister reference did nothing to ease us. Looking around, the
cunning and superstition that was everywhere about us took a direr
significance. As their resentment in no wise abated, it struck us that
we should do well to resume our way. But the man with the flute
assured us that we were under no necessity, for since we had sat at
meat with them, the mischief, if any, was already done. He said
besides that his people were the civillest in the world, and whatever
their fear of us, they would be the last to visit their dislike upon
us. As the fire was so bright and genial, and our present position,
despite any little inconveniences that might arise therefrom, was so
much more to be desired than any other we were likely to lie in that
night, we were seduced to remain. It may have been against our better
judgment that we took this course, or like the gypsies themselves, we
may have had an instinct of something impending, for in the end we were
to rue it bitterly.

Our friend with the flute, doubtless to compose the minds of his more
nervous brethren, began a strange sort of melody. It was played not
very well to be sure, but they gave an alert attention to it that
furnished an instance of the power of music on untutored minds.
Presently one of the women broke into a song to match the air. It was
in the gypsy language, and though sung in a low crooning voice and a
primitive fashion, it was by no means unpleasing, whilst its weird
character was highly appropriate to the place in which it was
performed. The rude audience was vastly soothed by it too; their
fierce looks grew softer; and soon they fell to regarding the music
entirely instead of Cynthia and myself.

When the flute-player had given his melody, he politely handed the
instrument to me, with the request that if I had any skill in the art I
should give one also. Being as I have said an amateur of the flute,
and being like all other amateurs as I have observed, never in any
situation averse to display my poor aptitude, I struck up a ranting air
from the _Beggar's Opera_. I was surprised to find how excellent the
instrument was, and was therefore able to enter into the performance as
much for my own gratification as for theirs. When I had finished I was
agreeably surprised to find how warmly my efforts were received. The
former player wrung my hand, and, strange as it may appear, many eyes
shone about me with pleasure and admiration. Nothing would content
them but I must play again. Mightily pleased with my success, as every
person who seeks the approbation of the public invariably is, I needed
no second invitation, but ventured on a more ambitious piece. With
many a spring and trill and roulade I ranted it into their ears. They
followed me with rapt attention, and again and again would have me
play. How long I continued to do so I do not know. For seeing the
singular pleasure they took from it, I should have been a churl indeed
not to gratify such hospitable and simple people. Therefore I poured
out all the tunes I knew for their behoof.

Little did we reck however of the calamity that was about to befall us.
The old woman, it is true, had had a premonition of something
impending. Had it been concerned with the effect as well as the cause
much might have been spared us. As it was, no catastrophe could have
come more swiftly, unexpectedly, or completely. I was still in the
height of my music, and the group around the fire were absorbed in it
wholly, when this unhappy interruption came. Without a sound of
warning a dozen forms or more suddenly sprang into being out of a ditch
hard by, and rushed into our midst. By the light of the moon we could
observe enough of them as they came to see that they were armed with
formidable staves, and clearly meant mischief.

We had only just time to spring to our feet before they were upon us.
What their business was we did not stay to inquire; indeed, it was soon
evident that my friends, the gypsies, were only too intimately
acquainted with it. Without passing a word they resisted this
onslaught with all the vigour they could summon. One or two ran into
the tents close at hand to procure weapons of defence; others produced
their knives; whilst the old crone, who along among the gypsy women was
not barefooted snatched off one of her boots and brandished it
fiercely. As for Cynthia and I, we were so taken aback by this strange
situation that we did not know what course to pursue. We had neither
art nor part in this quarrel whatever its nature. Besides, we were
weaponless and utterly at a loss to understand whether submission or
resistance might serve us the better.

The aggressors, whatever their impetuosity, stopped short at first of
actual violence. Seeing the uncompromising attitude of the gypsies,
the foremost man, a fine strapping fellow as ever I saw, halted a few
yards off, put up his hand to speak, and said with a great air of
authority:

"Now, you Egyptians, let me give you a word of advice before we come to
blows. You have no chance at all. You are outnumbered by three to
one, and whatever blood is shed, will be to your hurt. Whatever polls
are broken will not save any man Jack of you a hanging. I summon you
to put down your weapons, and the women shall go free. But I arrest
every man of you in the name of the High Sheriff for stealing sheep."

The reply of the sheep-stealers was brief enough in all conscience.

"Take that!" cried the old woman, flinging her boot at the speaker's
head.

It was the signal for the battle to begin. My friend the flute-player
followed up the boot by hitting the spokesman of the law full in the
face with his fist. Thereon blows fell thick and fast and furious on
every side. The Sheriff's men closed up, nor did the gypsies budge an
inch. Without a weapon of any sort, as I was, I had to bear my part
perforce, since there was no opportunity to explain that I was neither
a gypsy nor a stealer of sheep. But even had it offered, I could never
have embraced it. Just as a man may be known by the company he keeps,
he is at the same time laid under the obligation to defend his friends.

My first care, of course, was for Cynthia. As the Sheriff's men were
not likely to molest her should she run away out of reach of harm, I
insisted on her doing so. I had to be firm with her too, since she was
by no means disposed to separate from me in this pass. She would
either have me come with her or she would stay where she was. The
first alternative was impracticable even had I wished to embrace it.
The enemy were all about us by now, and I should not have been
permitted to go; and the second put her personal safety into such a
jeopardy that I had to be very stern. Thereon she unwillingly complied.

No sooner had she gone than I slipped the flute in my pocket and
prepared to take a hand in the defence. As I had no other weapons I
had to employ my hands. Had the conditions been equal I could have
wished no better. But they were little likely to prevail against
superior numbers, armed with staves. Indeed, from the first,
submission would have been the wiser course for us all, as the gypsies
were at such a disadvantage that they had no chance. Yet blows were
dealt with mighty goodwill on both sides; sometimes the upholders of
the law went down, but more often the breakers of it. Presently two
fellows with cudgels in their hands made lo seize me by the collar,
whereon I dealt the most assiduous of the twain so shrewd a crack on
the point of the jawbone as laid him low. The other fellow came at me
furiously with his stave, and I had barely time to whisk my head aside
and so get it clear of the blow that was aimed at it. I was hastening
to follow up this delicate attention with a few of my own, when a third
adversary unseen came behind me, and gave me such a tap at the side of
the head as brought me to the ground bleeding and half insensible.

Before I could make any attempt to gather myself again, a pair of knees
were in the middle of my chest, and a strong hand half choked the life
out of my throat. I was in no condition to kick or struggle much; but
whatever the philosophy of my temper in the piping times of peace,
devil a bit did I exercise of it now. Bleeding and breathless as I
was, I resisted with what was in the circumstances an absurd tenacity;
and it was some little time, after a great display of energy on both
sides that two or three of my enemies ultimately secured me, bound my
hands and raised me to my feet. And I hope the reader will observe
that I again insist that it took two or three persons to conclude this
unfortunate business, as it did to inaugurate it. I know not what vain
glory it is in a man that makes him so punctilious in matters of this
sort.

By the time I had been overcome and raised on to my feet in fetters,
the affair was almost decided. There could be but one ending; and very
soon the unfortunate gypsies were all of them captive too, with cords
round their wrists, and most of them bloody of bearing. No time was
lost in marching us away to the nearest magistrate. There seemed about
a score of armed men to take the custody of us. In the haste with
which everything was carried out, in the uncertain moonlight, and in
the dull vague condition of mind that the shock of events, to name only
one cause, had induced, I had not the smallest opportunity of taking
farewell of Cynthia. Nor had she any means of approaching me, seeing
how sedulously we were guarded, and how promptly we were marched away.

The whole thing was begun and ended so swiftly that this very
grandiloquent and self-important quill-pen hath made, I find, an
incomparably greater business of it than ever it was in itself. It can
never bring its dignity down to the subordinate office of the relation
of a plain piece of history, but is all for the frills and the
trimmings. Do not be deceived into thinking, therefore, that this
country brawl was as great as the battle of Marathon. But at least, at
the time the consequences were to me very poignant. As we were dragged
along over the stubble and through the moonlight, we knew not whither,
I was more stunned by my evil fortune than by the blow I had come by in
the argument, notwithstanding that as I walked the blood trickled in a
thin warm stream on to my coat. For a person in my circumstances to
fall into the hands of the law in a hedge scuffle in an alien quarrel,
was about as scurvy an accident as could possibly happen. I was truly
between the devil and the deep sea. To clear myself of the charge of
being a gypsy and a sheep-stealer, I should be compelled to expose my
identity, and in doing so should but fall out of the frying-pan into
the fire.

There was another side to the matter, equally black. Whatever would
happen to Cynthia? Was she not left utterly destitute, without a
friend, in a foreign country? Even in the extreme unlikelihood of my
regaining my freedom, neither of us would know where to seek the other,
and thus at a time when it was so imperative that we should be
together, we should be wrenched apart. Look at the case as I might, I
could derive no crumb of comfort from it.

It was in a great depression of spirit then that I was haled, weak,
bleeding, and encumbered along the country lanes to meet my fate. What
it was likely to be I did not exactly know, but look at the matter how
I would, there seemed to be but one natural ending to it. I was parted
from my poor little wife, doubtless for ever; and if I did not come to
the gallows for murder or stealing sheep, I must perforce end my days
in a debtor's prison.




CHAPTER XI

I COME A PRISONER TO A FAMILIAR HOUSE, AND FIND STRANGE COMPANY

We had marched along for what seemed to me in my unhappy state an
intolerable period, although I suppose actually the time was less than
an hour, when we passed through the gates of a great house. When the
porter came out of his lodge to let us through, and held his lantern
against the iron-work, I observed that the device of the family wrought
therein had a strangely familiar appearance. There was something about
the porter too that awoke all sorts of remote recollections in my mind.
As we went along the paths, even the situation of the trees that
skirted them added to this impression. And when we came at last on to
the lawn, and the house itself was clearly exposed in the moonlight, a
cry of surprise almost escaped my lips, for the place had once been my
own.

It was a house in which a great part of my boyhood had been spent, and
one that I had inherited at my father's death. It was but a little
while that it remained in my hands, however, for one night, having lost
much more than I cared about over a game of piquet, I think it was, in
a desperate attempt to retrieve my fortunes, I staked this precious
house upon the cards and lost it also, to a fellow as reckless as
myself. It is impossible to say, therefore, what my emotions were at
this my strange return to the home of my childhood, and the seat for
many a generation of those whose name I bore. But I think that the
first moment of recognition over, my tendency was towards laughter, for
could anything have been more comical than that I should be brought in
such a company, and on such a charge, to this of all the places in the
world?

Even the fellow who replied to the summons on the great hall-door, I
remembered nearly as well as my own father, for I ought to tell you
that servants, furniture and plate had passed over with the property.
We were kept waiting without whilst the head-constable or chief officer
among our captors went in to confer with the magistrate. In the end it
was decided that we should be brought before the justice in person. He
was said to have been a prime mover in the matter from the first, and
was highly incensed against the unfortunate gypsies.

"We could not have come to a worse place," said my friend the
flute-player, who stood beside me. "This is the house of Sir Thomas
Wheatley, a hard man, and the biggest enemy to us poor folk of any one
about. If his name and interest count for anything, we shall all of us
infallibly be hanged."

There were eight of us prisoners, and we were presently led into Sir
Thomas's presence. When we were brought into the fine dining-room that
I knew so well, every inch of which was so familiar to me, in which
every object of vertu and article of furniture was a thing so well
recollected that even in this predicament I could not refrain from
regarding them with pride and affection, how can I indicate the flood
of emotions that surged in my head? After all, a man in the depths of
his abandonment is something more than a piece of wood.

The justice was a common type of person enough; a man in middle life,
who doubtless lived well and drank much, to judge by his purple cheeks
and the somewhat puffed appearance of his body. He was a middling sort
of man in every way; middling in his stature, in his mind and in his
character, and more especially so, as we were to discover, in his
thoughts and ideas. He affected the very nicest style of the squire in
his dress, was highly formal in his deportment; and he sat playing
cards with another fellow, apparently not so much for the amusement of
himself or the entertainment of his friend, but rather as one who
followed a dignified occupation in a dignified way. In his every word,
gesture and motion he had an indescribable air of one sitting for his
picture. He was in a towering rage, it is true, but it was a rage that
appeared not to spring from the heat of his blood, for he was of that
lethargic habit, which does not rise to heats of any sort. He was in a
towering rage, because it was expected of one of his position and
sentiments to be in one at such a time. Therefore, when we poor
prisoners had been ranged along the wall, he put down his cards with
great deliberation, slowly wheeled his chair round towards us, put
together his thumbs, and looked us all over with a noble indignation.

"Soh!" says the justice, counting us carefully. "One, two,
three - eight of you fairly taken; eight cut-throat rogues that most
richly merit a hanging. And a hanging you shall get if there is any
law left in the country. I will commit you at once, so help me I will!
Fetch me pen and ink somebody, and I'll fill in the mittimus. I hope
you are mightily ashamed of yourselves, you wicked, blackamoor
villains."

"Can you not see that they are, good Tommie?" says the man with whom he
was playing at cards. "They are as ashamed as the devil was when he
singed the hairs on his tail through overheating his parlour."

The solemn justice was somewhat shocked at this piece of levity. He
frowned at his companion, and coughed to cover his annoyance. The man
who had spoken to this disconcerting tenor appeared rather a singular
fellow. It was difficult to say who or what he might be. Of a rather
massive frame, he had a countenance that recommended him to the
curious. His features were large and bold, with an aquiline nose, a
devil of a chin, and a short upper lip. His face shone with wassail
and intemperate excess; there was a deal of sensuality in it, and more
than a suggestion of coarseness, but it was for none of these things
that it was remarkable. There was something besides that was baffling
and indescribable to a degree, that drew one's attention to it again
and again. It was a face of marvellous humorous animation, with the
mockery of a devil and the candour of a saint. It was as prodigal of
wit as it was of appetite; of majesty and mischief; of impudence and
nobility. It was the face of a poet and a sot. Here, apparently, was
a great heart, a humane spirit overlaid with flesh and infirmities. I
think I was never so arrested by a countenance before, and certainly
never more puzzled by one.

"Why do you propose to hang these gentlemen, Tommie?" says this
whimsical fellow, with a mockery in his eyes and a curl of the lip that
made the justice more uncomfortable than ever. "Have they picked a few
hazel-twigs off your honour's footpaths?"

"Oh lord, Harry, I pray you be a little serious," says the justice.
"These are gypsies and sheep-stealers; villains and rascals all."

"They are beyond our prayers then," says Harry. "The law must take its
course. Even if it could overlook the rape of the mutton, it could
never condone the colour of their hair. _Lex citius tolerare vult
privatum damnum quam publicum malum_. There you are as pat and
pragmatical as Marcus Tullius Cicero. I tell you, Tommie, the world
lost a great lawyer when I became a hackney writer."

While this was going forward I had collected a few of my wits and had
determined on the course to pursue. Unless by hook or by crook I could
seize these precious moments prior to our committal to prison in which
to put myself right or regain my freedom, all chance would be gone.
Jack Tiverton was as dear to the law as a sheep-stealing gypsy, and
once before a judge I must prove myself to be the one before I could
prove I was not the other. Therefore I boldly seized the occasion.

"I beg your worship's pardon," says I, humbly; "but surely you will not
commit a man without evidence? And there is not a tittle of evidence
against me. I am neither a gypsy nor a sheep-stealer."

I was several times interrupted in the course of this little address by
one of our custodians, who continued to pluck at my sleeve, and
enjoined me in audible whispers to hold my impertinent tongue. The


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