Month: February 2014

Pages 64-74

AGW photo page 64

There were a further seven unrelated horse-traders, three Irish and for from Tyneside. The owner of the lodging-house had told the men of my long journey on Greensleeves, and they were wanting to learn of my ride and to know why, at that late hour, I was not sleeping away the riding fatigue. Concerning my lack of tiredness, I did not tell the men that I had drunk nothing, not even water, since the evening before my ride, and that I did not intend to end the fast until I was back home on the morrow evening. Such treatment kept my mind very wakeful – I having no wish to miss any of the excitement of the fair. My cure for any limb-tiredness which might be felt on the morrow was to be a swim in the river.

The horse-traders then said, that as I was not tired at that hour, could they stay and talk with me for a while. I was very happy at their suggestion, and we stayed in conversation until after two o’clock of the morrow morning. Our talk was of the rearing and the trading of dogs and horses, and especially concerning all the “tricks o’ the trade” practiced by dealers in selling off of unfit stock: and we were agreed that owing to present-day unnatural rearing methods of animals of all kinds, a very large percentage were unfit. We agreed also that the nastiness of the spirit of many humans made vicious the animals in their care, and thus were created the great legion of spiteful, biting dogs, and kicking, bucking, rearing and biting horses. Bulls, too, were much affected by the character of the humans who had the management of them.

We talked long concerning the “doctoring up” of horses, and especially the known Gypsy art for this. For we agreed that the long persecuting of the Gypsy by the gawje had bred dislike and contempt for the gawje in the hearts of the majority of Gypsies, and it was understandable that they should be glad to triumph over their persecutors. But if a Gypsy gave you his friendship there be no better person from whom to buy a horse or dog, for the Romanies have inherited “an eye” for animals which is seldom equalled by other races, and they are usually very knowledgeable as to where to secure the best animals. Also, if a Gypsy could not break a horse or dog of bad ways, no other man could do so. Amongst the doctoring tricks that we discussed, was the exciting of flow, sluggish horses, before sale, by giving draughts of alcoholic mixtures, together with anise and ginger. The covering over of old sores and scars with various dyes and pastes – walnut stain and pine resin being very effective for this, also black-lead; and the gumming of hair shavings on to the scars of broken-kneed horses – pogado chongaw. The use of lard for broken-winded horses – pogado bavalengros – or lard mixed with camphor dust, to ease the breathing, fed in balls just before the sale of the animal. Likewise for bavalengros the tying of a little aloes under the horse’s tongue, to affects its breathing beneficially until sold. For glandered horses – nokengroes – there is the plugging of the nostrils with rag steeped in a mixture of alcohol and powdered camphor, the plugs on removal bringing with them a flow of mucus and pus, the nostrils next syringed out, the animal then appearing clean, temporarily. An alternative method is the plugging of the nostrils with nettles, the famous pepper chor of the Romanies, and much used in their medicine for legitimate as well as illegitimate purposes, which likewise will bring with it a great flow of accumulated nasal discharge, and will leave the horse with a healthful appearance for short duration but sufficient to effect the sale. Then there is the cruel trick of laming all four legs of a horse if one limb be lame in order to make it walk evenly when being shown for sale. And so we talked on for hours.

I gave the company an account of the training by a Gypsy friend of a considered untrainable Person greyhound (Saluki) dog. The dog when unleashed would always bolt away like a mad horse, and would not return for days or allow himself to be caught until he chose. They Gypsy friend was Jim Vincent, a Kentish Romany, one of the family of big horse-traders, possessing large numbers of animals, and who traveled the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. I promised Jim that I would present him with the hound, which was approaching two years of age and was a fine show specimen, for he assured me that he could train it in short time, and I was sorry for the present life of the dog in kennels in Yorkshire, because always imprisoned and never able to enjoy free exercise in the fields. But I was very doubtful of the Gypsy being successful with so difficult a case. Jim, however, was entirely confident of achievement, he saying that no animal on this earth had beaten him yet. He said to me: “ I will show you well the way of a Gypsy with a dog, we does things different to the gawjes.”

The Saluki dog made the joruney from Yorkshire to Surrey. The present owners were pleased to part with the animal. He arrived in a crate labelled like a wild tiger, with countless warnings as “on no account permitting the dog to escape from the crate.” I fed and exercised the Saluki and then walked him to the Vincent caravans, arriving there at midnight. Jim was delighted with the hound, his eyes became starry when he beheld it. The training then commenced. Evening after evening the Gypsy would visit me in the hut by the river, in which I was living, take a meal with me, and discuss the progress made with the taming of the Saluki. Then, on the tenth day since he had possession of the dog, Jim called in the morning to ask me to visit that noon the camping place of his family, where he would be awaiting me together with his Saluki – fully trained. “Do you believe it?” he asked. And I said: “You are a very truthful person always with me, but this does seem difficult to believe, because, like you, I know the natures of animals; but I shall see well this afternoon.”

I duly visited the Gypsy camp and there, unleashed, by the fire, lay the wild Saluki. The hound got up to greet me, for I had with me my own trained Saluki. I then went for a walk over the fields with Jim and his brother, and throughout the walk the unleashed dog followed perfectly, close by his master. and if momentarily the dog did go out of sight amongst the bushes, he returned instantly when Jim whistled. The dog had been trained not by fear, but my the powerful will of the Gypsy, a will which is totally unlike anything known to the non-Gypsy, in its fierce power of concentration and unbending purpose. Jim admitted that he had trained the hound by the force of his will and by instilling into the dog’s mind respect for him as its master and also the knowledge of his benevolence: the same mental influence that the bitch experts over her young whelps and which commands their obedience. The Gypsy further instructed me: “You must get deep into an animal’s mind, be it dog or horse. And give your own mind unsparingly to the training work. Think on nothing else but the training and how you must not allow the animal to have its own way over your own. Keep the animal with you as much as possible, day and night, and between training times give it all the love that you have got.” The Saluki had certainly loved the Gypsy; for when by the fire it had placed its body upon its master, keeping as close as possible to the object of its love. A half-year later John Bouverie of the News Chronicle met Jim Vincent with the Saluki that I had given to him, and wrote in that journal an account of the training of the dog.

My audience became interested in Jim, and they asked me to tell them more concerning him. I told how strong he was, and brown and rugged -and rather like a bear- and yet a most warm-hearted and loyal friend, who would take off his coat and make you wear it if you were walking with him and the wind blew cold. One of my favourite English Gypsies indeed. I told also how knowledgeable he was concerning the life of the fields and woods, and how he had taught me many things concerning the wild animals. I told to the horse-traders two things that I had learnt from Jim. That oftentimes a squirrel, when in great haste to reach the ground or when being chased, will form itself into a supple ball and hurl itself from the tree-top, arranging in the falling to land upon a heap of leaves or into a bracken bed. Jim once saw a squirrel loose its life by falling recklessly and failing to reach a suitable landing place: the animal’s brains were beating out. He told concerning snakes, that slain snakes will never part fully with their life spirit whilst the sun remains in the sky. Almost always life will flicker on in some part of the body until sundown. Even though the body should be cut into countless pieces, sundown only will bring complete death. It is at such time that they mate of the slain snake will go forth in search of the slayer, seeking to avenge the death.

The men then told many stories concerning the ways of animals, especially concerning horses and dogs. The conversation was all enjoyment for me; very pleasing was the music in the Irish speech, and also the low-pitched burr of the Tynesider is always pleasant to hear.

Furthermore, not one of the men was drunk, the owner of the lodging-house had given warning without reason. The horse-trading on the morrow required all of the men’s attention and wits, they could not afford drunkenness. But once the horses were sold, then would come celebration in beer and whisky. I knew well that there would be no pleasant talking with the men on the morrow night, alcohol would be in the power in the lodging-house: thus I was the more appreciative of the present night’s and early morning’s entertainment. We, by the coming of the dawn, had talked ourselves into silence; tobacco fumes made a fog in the parlour. The men then went to their beds. The trader Jarrett promised me a lesson in horse-grooming if I would meet him at the stables before eight o’clock of the morning. I kept the meeting, and saw the most skilful horse-grooming that I have beheld.

Before eight o’clock I had also visited Greensleeves, finding her in excellent health and very well rested. I also had my swim in the river. After the horse-grooming I went my way back to the fair.

Yesternight’s promise of a day of sun-heat had been fulfilled, and the sun burnt down upon the thronging people and the traders bringing in their horses from the nearby grazing places. George and Tom Nicholson were on the moor, leading in the team of Shire horses which they had for sale. There was intense activity everywhere, so much passion and excitement, I thought in order to get money into human pockets, and for little reason else; although I knew also that there was a form of trading lust that got into men’s blood and caused them to trade things for the sheer excitement of the bargaining and of the gambling as to whether or not they would achieve a “strike”. Level bargaining, one object for another, without the exchange of money, was known to the Gypsies as a “chop”.

I derived much pleasure from watching the horses being brought on to the fair ground, all finely groomed, manes and tails streaming in the breeze like long summer grass, with wondrous silken sheen, or elaborately parted and coiled as the young fronds of ferns. The majority of the horses were decorated with fancy harness of brilliant colours, brass ornaments, ribbons in rosettes or streamers, bunches of flowers – especially buttercups and daisies and the fame of corn poppies. The decorations help to attract the eyes of the thronging buyers. A cry of excitement came from the crowd when the Irish horses came in; a great company of them, and certainly amongst the most beautiful of all the horses gathered there. “Ere come the Oirish!” shouted the crowd. I saw again all of my friends of last night, and they waved their riding-whips to me, and doffed caps, and laughed: they were very proud of their fine animals and excited at the admiration of the people. How gracefully they rode their shining steeds, and how clean-faced and gallant those horsemen looked.

It seemed a long time before the Nicholson brothers came from the moor, leading their great shaggy-legged horses. As I watched them I was reminded again as to how much those men were a portion of the dales; the firm tread of their broad feet, and the form of their powerful bodies towering like the Pennine heights themselves: of Pennine rock and the rushing waters of the becks they were made, so keen and bright were the eyes of the two brothers, and their brown hands holding so skilfully the prancing giant Shire horses. George was leading a young mare white as elder blossom, and the horse-dealers praised loudly the pawno gry as she walked past them. That June morning George looked like a Gypsy chief as he led forward his white horse. It was a fated thing that two years later that skilled horse-breaker should be trampled upon by a wild horse, his face crushed and disfigured and many toes broken.

Soon the Gypsies and other traders were at their bikking, mostly individual selling, each Gypsy or Gypsy family selling his own horses. But in one area of the fair ground an auction sale  -biknomus- was being held, and the excitement there was beyond the telling. Now in all parts of the fair site the old, old scene of the trading of horses, was being enacted again, as it had been performed at al the horse fairs of England and elsewhere, since the beginning of horse selling, and also on that April evening at Thiernswood when the Nicholsons had traded Greensleeves.

Firstly there was the showing of the horses. The flicking of long-corded whips under bellies and around legs and then the racing of the animals to and fro down the lanes made by the crowds on the fair ground. Sweating men clutching at the reins of the horses that they were running, and shouting as they ran the old trading cry of “Hi! Hi! Hi!” or “Hep! Hep!” – as used also by the cattle drovers of long ago. Screaming horses with frothing jaws, excited – and often enough terrified – by the stinging whips so skilfully applied, and the thunder of the voices issuing from the human bodies which formed barricades on all sides. The ending of a “trade”, hand slapped down upon hand, palm to palm, and the crowd shouting their pleasure at the completion of the deal. Often enough no money is paid at the time of the “trade”, the mere slapping of palm upon open palm being sufficient to register the sale of the animal. No account need be rendered, or the deal recorded in writing, often enough the traders know not how to write other than their own names. Let a trader dishonour a hand-sealed agreement and he will be scorned for ever by his fellow horse-dealers, and chased off every fair ground on which he is recognized.

When bargaining is in progress then the crowd is at its happiest, the men swarming as bees around spilled honey, as they crowd upon the vendor and the prospective buyer, and urge on with shouts and laughter the progress of the trading.

A “trade” made in such an atmosphere is a good one, and likely to bring kushto bock (good fortune) to the new owner of the horse. There are many superstitions in horse-dealing. Gypsies especially do not like to take over an animal which has been wept upon by the owner reluctant to part with it; nor do they like animals which have occasioned angry words during the trading, they consider that such animals carry kawlo bock (bad luck).

The din and the clamour of the trading went on without cease. Dogs got under the hooves of the horses being galloped to show off their good paces and their fitness and humans were knocked down and sometimes injured. Men and horses sweated beneath the broiling heat of the sun flaring down upon the hillside. Again there were the predominating scents of the drifting wood-smoke, warm grass-filled horse dung, and now new scents from the tilt-carts loaded with green hillocks of scythed grass for horse-feed, which the Gypsies culled from the roadsides and brought back to the fair ground in endless procession, and als there came from the near common the perfume of blossoming gorse, quickened by the fire of the sun.

As the morning hours lengthened towards noon, so likewise increased the power of the sun in the cloudless sky coloured now the dark solid blue of a stretch of cornflowers. The breeze died and the atmosphere was breathless. It was one of the days of fiercest sun-heat that I had experienced in the North Country. Flies sang in hissing choruses around the tail-lashing, mane-tossing horses; and there was other song, far sweeter, the fluting of the skylarks. Those brown birds thronged the sky above the gorse-gold common, where the horses then being paced for sale had grazed through the past night and where the stout waggon-hauling Galloways still remained. In lilting rhythm the skylarks soared and fell through the gorse-scented air. Dordi! Dordi! what a heart-stirring world it was.

Romany racklis (girls) wore wild roses in their blue-black hair, or the mauve scabious flowers, named the Gypsy rose. The chals (lads) too had adorned themselves with flowers, pale dog-roses tucked into hat and cap bands or lapels, and other gaudier blossoms, pansies, peonies, geraniums and such-like, taken from wayside gardens. Fair-time was the time of love for many a Gypsy youth and girl; dowries of horses and china, dogs and clothing, and sometimes vardos, were discussed by the parents. The young lovers had their own discussions, and went into the green heart of the woods to test their love: fern and budding heather making the best of love beds. One could feel in the air the singing happiness of the Gypsies at this fairus-time, when they could put away all the work of peg-making and basket-weaving, the gathering work in the fields, and the trials of road travel and harrying by the gravers (police) and could enjoy the golden hours of love-making.

I met again with my Gypsy friends from the previous night, and inspected their horses and dogs in the daylight. The Gypsy dogs were mostly lurchers, but I met with a brace of pure-bred Scottish deerhounds, and there were some pure-bred dandie dinmonts, and many greyhounds. The happiest thing for Gypsy dogs is that they share intimately in the lives of their owners; they live in the vardos and tans along with the family, feed with them, sleep with them, play with the brown babies, hunt with the youths and the elders,and poach skilfully and silently for their masters the lands of the gawje.

From all the multitude of Gypsies whom I met during my night and morning at Appleby, I retained two portraits which were especially impressive. There was one Gypsy man of unusual personality and remarkable swarthiness, a spectacular rider also. Long, flowing hair, black as charcoal, falling in locks over his forehead so as almost to hide his brilliant eyes – black as the hair. His skin timber-brown, though withal ruddy as is the bark of the Scots pine. Lips thick and heavy, almost negroid, and a great Semitic nose dominating his face. He was dressed in a long frock-coat of midnight blue, green trousers and sky-blue dicklo. His brown hands, long, slim-fingered, beautiful, beringed with silver; brandishing two whips, one a mere flicking crop but the other a great coaching whip, with long, embossed, silver handle, which flashed in the sunlight. That Gypsy stood out in curious and picturesque appearance from all other Gypsies at the fair. Two years later I was to meet him again, and enjoy his friendship and also that of his parents and sisters. Indeed he was to be my partner at all of the later horse fairs that I visited: his name was Lawrence Wood. The other character, a very brown-faced Gypsy boy of some seven years, wearing noticeably light blue socks and green boots, a garland of marigolds around his neck, one hand gripping a length of rope to which was tied a Yorkshire terrier. His other hand held that of his father, a towering red-moustached Gypsy, with a quiff of scarlet hair -like a flame- brushed up from his broad forehead. Al the time that I observed the small Gypsy boy, he alternately kicked the terrier or hit it with the end of the rope. The father took no heed of this son’s chastisement of the dog, but frequently patted with adoring hands the child’s abundant hair which was the same hue as his own. The child rightfully could not have been checked by any bystander for ill-treatment for the dog, for at each blow or kick the terrier wagged its short tail, and then fawned in love upon its master.

Before leaving the fair I visited the site for the fortunetellers. Not to have my hand read or my future told in cards, for I do not go to the professional fortune-tellers for that Gypsy art, it being the roadside dukkerin’ of the true artist in dukkeriben that holds a fascination for me. I went to the lane of the fortune-tellers because I wanted to study in daylight the magnificence of the fardos there, of which I had seen some part on the yesternight. For those vardos were owned by the wealthy Gypsies, who hire sites at the summer holiday resorts and there ply their fortune-telling with much monetary success; many of them had traveled in France and America. The vardos mostly possessed flashy and crude sign-cards, shouting to the world of the dukkering skill of their owners, and promised perfection in the various arts of palmistry, card-telling and crystal-gazing. Through the open doors could be seen most splendid displays of china, glass and brass ornaments, but especially china, much of it old and very beautiful. The Gypsy fortune-tellers themselves were mostly opulently and gaudily dressed, adorned with the silken head-scarves coming low over brow of the traditional theatre Gypsy, dicklos, long-skirted dresses, and wearing many ornaments, ear-rings, bracelets, and necklaces -especially chains. The majority of the women were fat and white-fleshed. The vardos were almost all motor-drawn, of modern design, and possessed paraffin cooking stoves! There were over thirty fortune-tellers’ caravans at Appleby that year. I walked slowly by the site, watching all, but knew no wish to stay long there. I well preferred my raggle-tagge Gypsies, with their horse-drawn houses, or tents carried upon their backs or on tilt-carts, with their accompanying dogs and their bantams, their odd and picturesque possessions, lean and brown persons, scented with wood-smoke, wild flowers their ornaments, and with the romance of the open road and the countryside over which they wandered all upon them.

The time had come for me myself to take again to the road, it being after midday when I visited the place of the fortunetellers. I knew that Greensleeves would return at a slower pace than the one that she had made to Appleby. George had given me directions for a new route back to Helaugh, and I was wanting to follow it, especially as it was to be lone moorland for most of the forty miles. Much of the route was a rough road, George had warned me, but of rare beauty.

I collected Greensleeves from the farm, and was helpfully supplied with a new sackful of oats from there. And soon I was away, riding into the golden sun-glare over the hills, Appleby town behind me, and memories of its horse fair thronging in my mind as many as the larks rising and falling over the gorse common.

Pages 54-63

CHAPTER III

On Horseback to Appleby Fair

AGW pic page 63

During a moorland ride to Arkengarthdale, accompanied by George Nicholson, the horse-trader had enthralled my mind with his talk of Appleby horse fair and I had promised meeting with him there. The Nicholsons had come often to Thiernswood after my purchase of their mare, and I was always very glad to be with them. What wonderful riders they were; the skill, the swiftness and the power, and withal the grace, of their bareback riding being memorable.

I believe that humans -and animals too- are influenced by more than parentage and the homes in which they are reared. The very air that they breathe, the water that they drink, the earth they tread, and the plants and trees and birds which come into the range of their eyes, all have much influence in the building of blood, nerve and brain, and furthermore – formation of character. Thus the Nicholsons were much a part of the Yorkshire and Westmorland dales that I loved. Since babes they had walked barefoot over the heather tracts, drunk of the moorland springs and becks, filled their lungs with the misty and sweet scented air, their eyes with the wondrous colours of greys and blues and greens and purples, and even taken into their voices the notes of the birds which are frequenters of the Pennine hills and moors: the raven, the grouse, curlew and golden plover, the lark and the lapwing. The voices of the horse-traders were charged with music, and were strangely low-pitched and gentle for such big men, and for men who were not at all gentle when roused to anger, and who indeed were known much in the dales for the power of their fists.

On the Arkengarthdale ride with George, to the tuneful piping of the curlew and the unearthly echo-like plaints of the golden plover, all accompanied by the sibilant whispering of bog-reeds and cotton-grass, had been told the tale of Appleby horse fair. How the Gypsy people and the other horse-traders came riding in from near and far, from all parts of the long stretching country of Yorkshire, from Westmorland, Durham and Northumberland, and more distant areas of Scotland, also from so far away as Wales and Ireland: Gypsies in their hundreds, and great crowds of didikais (half-breed gypsies) and mumpers (non-Gypsy travellers) also. And a multitude of horses of all breeds brought there for sale or barter or parade. The general high revelry of the daytime, and at night dancing on the moor by firelight and starlight. George told me that the 1847 Appleby fair was likely to be the best of our lifetime. For the increasing mechanization of the farms was dooming the horse fairs, the premier buyers at which had always been farmers. Likewise the best days of the horse in England were hastening to their end, accelerated by the growing dangers of the road for horse traffic, concreting of road surfaces, and crowding motor vehicles, and furthermore the modern shortage of good feed for horses, especially an insufficiency of sweet grass. “Alas! Alas!” we lamented together, “the days of horse are ending.” and, “Alas! Alas!” piped back the golden plovers, hidden from sight amongst the heather clumps and whinberries.

I was determined to get to Appleby, and moreover to make the eighty miles journey on horseback. The ride was approximately forty miles in both directions, mostly rough moorland road, very broken road in the spring of 1947, resultant from the Great Snow. My neighbour, farmer Metcalfe, who was a knowledgeable horse-judge and frequent visitor to the hore fairs, strongly opposed my plan to ride Greensleeves to Appleby. He said that it would be most unwise to attempt the long ride over the moors alone, under present conditions, and further unwise to take a mare who was as yet little known to me: since my purchase of Greensleeves my veterinary work had taken me often from the dale. At first he refused to instruct me as to the route to follow, but after an hour of argument yielded to my obstinacy and gave me all help. As he recited the route to me it came upon my ears like a lovely song. These were his words: “Ye ride up dale to mountain tops, Helaugh to Low Row, then further upwards again to Muker. Ye turn at t’ Cat Hole Inn, and then take long an t’ lone road to Low Barnard moors, crossin’ the range as far as Kirby moors, then down into Kirby Stephen town. Through the town into t’ Eden valley (greenest an’ sweetest of all valleys), then on’ards to t’ Great North Road, travelling it for a few miles into Appleby.” He finished by telling me that I would for sure bring much trouble upon myself going on such a foolhardy ride. (And often on that journey I was to be reminded of the farmer’s warning.)
But – Appleby! Appleby! The name had been chorusing in my mind for a month, ever since George Nicholson had described to me the great horse fair there, and not a thousand warnings would have kept me away. When the time came or the bridling and saddling of Greensleeves my excitement was childish; I sang and I laughed and my hands had difficulty in buckling the straps. I was drunken with the Gypsy thought of the open road; the eternal jallin’ of the drom.

The difficulties of my journey commenced before I left Thiernswood, for I had great trouble in getting Greensleeves away from the paddock. The mare objected savagely to the packs that I fastened to the saddle, and leapt and kicked like an animal gone lunatic. When I mounted her she demonstrated her fury by endeavouring to rush me against walls and trees in order to have me off the saddle. Too much corn, together with too little exercise and dicipline whilst I was away, had much changed her from docile to almost unmanageable. She was indeed only a part-broken horse. When with the Nicholsons much exercise and sparse feed had kept her docile and concealed her true wildness: she was a changed animal. It required a full half-hour before I was able to ride her from the paddock, the bumping saddle packs so angered her. The packs included a sack of oats for Greensleeves; for in consequence of the spring’s snow, feed of all kinds for horses was very short, and I had been warned to carry the fare’s feed with me. I was also taking a promised supply of herbs for the horses and dogs of Gypsy friends, a raincoat and change of clothes for myself – and very unsuitably an anthology of English poetry. The poems were to be my personal happiness and feed in contrast to Greensleeves’ oats: Arnold’s The Scholar Gypsy was included and de la Mare’s The Traveller, and Arabia.

Riding a normal horse, and without the troublesome burden of the saddle packs, I know that my ride would have proved a simple thing for me and not the arduous experience warned by Farmer Metcalfe. But Greensleeves had the devil in her throughout the first day’s ride. Each time I dismounted to give her corn feed or relieve her of weight by walking alongside her for odd quarter-mile stretches in places where the moor was particularly lovely, she proved almost impossible to remount, leaping away as soon as she felt my foot touch the stirrup, and kicking out at me and refusing absolutely to stand quietly. Her ill-humour lost me many hours, and tired me when otherwise I would not have been tired at all. Yet worse trouble were the saddle packs, which were not made for long journeys. Straps broke, the corn sack split and lost me several stones of its contents, and I was given an extra ride of three miles above the allotted forty, by the loss of my canvas bag in the Eden valley, containing all my money, the poetry book and a Gypsy bracelet of beaten copper which I greatly loved. I had to run back and carefully search my tracks, and finally had the good fortune to find the bag lying in a clump of reeds, all of its contents safely within.

Other events on my Appleby ride, especially the return journey, could fill a book; but there is no place for them here. Sufficient to say in this account that the ride was not all punishment and trial for me; there was also such abundance of beauty and joy that the memory of it all will paint my mind for ever. The day itself was a golden one in June. The colours of the hayfields so soon to be slain by the swishing passionate scythes, were the green of deep meres rippling with silver and teeming with dragonflies of brilliant colours. The wild flowers represented the dragonflies and a hundred colours they were, but especially abundant were the gold of the massed buttercups and the silver of the ox-eye daisies. In the hedgerows crowded the queen flower of June, the blush wild rose, tossing and nodding to me as I rode by. Especially memorable was the scent of the wild roses, mingled with the honey breath of the purple scabious called locally the Gypsy rose – and the pungency of the crushed foliage of anise and geranium as the hooves of the fast-trotting Greensleeves passed over them at the ditch-side. The great snows of the spring had left much mark of their being, especially evident upon the hills and moors. The moorland stretches to Appleby which formed the greater portion of my journey, provided extraordinary beauty where with to drench my eyes: aftermath of the snows. The scientists had written concerning the snow of 1947, that such a fall came but every half-century, or even more rarely, and I knew therefore that I would experience no other in my lifetime. The phosphates and nitrates which the snow bestows with such bounty upon the earth whereon it rests, had given an unnatural -but very beautiful- richness of colour to the trees and plants. The foliage of the trees painted against the blue sky of early summer, dazzled the sight, as did the hues of the moorland grasses, the brook sedges, the springing heather, and the fern carpets upon the lower reaches of the Pennines. I told my eyes: “look long! look well! and remember, oh remember, for you will not see like beauty ever again.”

George had said to me: “There is such beauty over the moors in the late spring.”

Farmer Metcalf had said: “The moors are lonely, the roads and paths are treacherous after the heavy snows.”

And as I rode Greensleeves into Appleby town I thought upon the words of the two men, and decided that both had spoken much truth.

I had left Helaugh after one o’clock of the noon and I was at Appleby before eight in the evening. Good progress had been made considering that Greensleeves had had to be kept at a walk or trot throughout the ride, owing to the heavy saddle packs, which when a canter was attempted, knocked against her sides and caused her to panic wildly; and I will not frighten any animal (memory of the utter terror of the horses that I saw at a Spanish bullfight – as I write this). The mare was so weary by the time that I halted her at Appleby bridge, that she would proceed no step further, and I dismounted and walked her slowly for the final mile which was to take Greensleeves to the farm where I was told I would find a field in which she could graze through the night.

 

There were many Gypsies thronging in the streets, and when on their asking I told them that I had ridden to Appleby from near Reeth, they surprised me with the abundance of their praise. The Gypsies were very friendly. One of them brought to Greensleeves a bucket of water into which he had poured a quantity of ale; and although I had watered the mare frequently at the becks and rills, she drank the bucket empty at a draught. The Gypsies thronged around the mare cheering her. I knew that I was amongst amusing company and friends and the thought of my visit to the fair site that night well gladdened me. One especial wish had urged me to achieve the ride without much delay, and that had been to reach Appleby fair befor the lighting of the night fires. I had achieved my desire; the scent of wood-smoke was not yet heavy on the wind. I hastened to get Greensleeves settled in the field, and I to be away to the fair.

“I’ll see you at the faros, sig (fair, soon),” I said to the Gypsies.
“Aavali mi rackli (Yes, my girl),” they replied.

And one man, all togged-up in fairos rodis (fair-day clothes), with dooi kolis (two-shilling pieces) for buttons on his green jacket, said that he would be my dancing partner for the night. But I, looking at his great booted feet, said that I would consider that matter while I was away pooving my gry (getting my horse illegal grazing). And that caused all the Gypsies to laugh, and in such loud voice that two gravvers (policemen) walked up to see if there was any trouble.

The site of Appleby greisto-fairus is on a hillside a half-mile from the town centre. On either side of the roadway are grouped the tents and caravans, and the modern Gypsy vehicle of travel – the motor waggon. Around those wayside homes gather the Gypsy families, and likewise the non-Gypsy travelers. The Irish traders usually lodge in the inns and apartment-houses of the town. The Irish are always a feature of Appleby fair, as are the long strings of good riding ponies and horses that they bring with them from Ireland. Appleby, being primarily a horse-fair, throngs with the equine race in all its types. Many are tethered close by the vardos, but the greatest number are hobbed and put out to graze along the riverside or on the nearby common, where they can be seen in multi-coloured hordes. The caravans and waggons are so many that they stretch for a goodly part of a mile, making a remarkable picture, and everywhere, everywhere, there are horses.

As I walked towards the place of the fair, I caught the sound of the Gypsy gathering an ample five-minutes’ walk away. The sound was a low, continuous roaring, such as I have oftentimes heard the storm winds make in the valleys of the Pennines, when they seem to cause to tremble they very hillsides, such a power and a thunder is there in their presence. Naturally the volume of sound increased as I advanced, until when I was able to see the naphtha and other lamps of the fair site and also the shapes of the vardos and tans, I was able to distinguish also the individual sounds which helped to achieve the great thunder. There was foremost the clangour of speech and laughter – very strident are Gypsy voices when in gatherings of their own people, and laughter pealing like wild bells, never lacking. Then there were the lesser sounds made by the horses and dogs. The screaming of excited stallions, the clamping of hooves on copplestones -such music- the treble of shaken bits, also the brass ornaments and the harness bells with which the majority of the horses were splendidly decorated. The dogs too made their music with rattled chains and the collar bells and chorus of barking. Finally there was burning of the wood-fires newly kindled, a faint sound contrasted with all else, but for me the most sweet and very typical of all Gypsy encampments.

Having filled my eyes with the sound of Appleby fair by night, I then, having accustomed myself to the alternating glare and shadow of the lamps and the firelight, began to feast my eyes. Would that I could describe in its entirety all the wonder of the scene that I beheld. A night-sky the shade of aconite flowers, pricked over-all with the silver points of the stars, and below the shapes of the Westmorland hills pressed against the purple night and limned in starlight. High atop the moor the silhouetted forms of the hordes of grazing horses, their manes beautifully blowing in the night breeze. Below on the road the vardos of all kinds and sizes, with the short arms of their individual chimneys pointing to the stars. The clustered tans of canvas shaped like old-fashioned bee-skeps, made lovely rounds against the more angular caravans and motor waggons. And then the fires, red glowing rows of them stretching to the moor, for few of the vardos were without their accompanying fire. The carmine-orange flowers of the yogs (fires) stood in rows like peony flowers in a formal garden. Swinging rhythmically above the flames, in the manner of hovering bumble-bees, were the round, black kettles and cooking pots hung upon the iron rods, while the whirling grey smoke -the foliage of the peony flowers- blew around the black vessels and mingled with the silver steam issuing from spout and pot. And Gypsies themselves! Oh beautiful and mysterious in the firelight, with their lean, finely moulded faces and long, semitic noses, painted or limned in rose with the flames’ glimmer. Their narrow, glittering eyes, black or sometimes of intense blue shining through wild-blowing hair. The colours of dicklos and bauro dicklos (shawls), and of satin blouses and velvet jackets adorned with fancy buttons, the metal glint of ear-rings and bangles and rings, all the colours of all, changed and made more beautiful in the mysterious light from lamps and fires and stars. A rainbowed mosaic of shifting, revolving shapes and shades, bewitching, bewildering, and altogether wonderful.

In addition to the sight of Appleby fair there was also the scent. Predominating were the sweet fumes of wood-smoke, and then the peculiar and always pleasant scent of the horses, their fragrant breathing and the pungent odour of the grass-rich dung. Scent of ale and tobacco, and the less pleasant smell of paraffin fumes – for not all of the Romanies had remained true to the traditional open-air wood-fire, but had adopted the paraffin stoves favoured by so many of the non Gypsy travelling folk. Often I have heard the old Romany people declare that food cooked otherwise than over wood is tainted and fit only for baulos (pigs), and that they preferred to stay foodless rather than eat such fare. “Or dordi! dordi! (dear me) the old good ways is a-changin an’ the new things be all wafferdy (bad) for the poor Romany, all o’ them.” That being the voice of Harriet Young, a true kawlo rat and Romany, when handed a platter of the traditional Gypsy pancakes cooked over the paraffin stove of her son’s gawje wife; and when the donor of the pancakes had left Harriet’s fireside, I watched her burn every one of the cakes; she would not even feed them to her pack of dogs.

That night at the fair I met countless Gypsies, men and women of the famed old families, Youngs, Smiths, Hernes, Boswells, Lees, Lovells, Grays, Woods, all were there and many more. It was one of the most amusing nights of my life. I felt no tiredness at al from my ride, only the skin of my face troubled me from wind and sun blistering over the bleak moors. Yet my sun-red cheeks brought complimentary remarks from the gypsies as did my untidy hair which would have shocked the eyes of all hairdressers, it having become so tangled from the winds that I found it impossible to force my comb through the mass, the comb breaking immediately. Therefore I went to the fair with my hair in the style that the wind had arranged for me.

I danced with many a Gipsy, including the man with the florin-piece buttons on his jacket, and he did trample upon my feet as I had foreknown. He was a fair-booth koormengro (pugilist) by profession, he told me.

I found the Nicholsons’ vardos early in the evening, standing in a part of the fair grounds known as the quarry. One of the vans, owned by George’s sister Mary, was very picturesque with its green and yellow paintwork and pale lilac curtains. There I made friends with Mary’s daughters, whom I was to meet again in later months in Swaledale, and to spend happy hours and their fires and enjoy horse-riding with them.

George had not imagined that in reality I would keep my promise and ride Greensleeves from Helaugh to Appleby, and he was very pleased with me. I gave to him and the other Gypsies my herbal medicines which I had brought with me for their horses and dogs, and which they were so eager to possess, having heard of their powers in curing over one thousand pedigree Swaledale sheep afflicted with a disease following the Great Snow, and condemned as incurable by the orthodox veterinary treatments. The Gypsies shared my love of herbs, and my faith in their great powers. George’s uncle had been renowned through the daes as an herbalist of great skill and, as I with the sheep, he had restored to health many human beings condemned incurable by the professional doctors.

George asked me if I were not afraid at Appleby amongst all the stranger Gypsy men, many of whom were of bad character -wife-beaters and drunkards, he said- and they thronging around me, flirting and joking. I replied, no, that I was unafraid, and that I liked their company, and of the few whom I did not like I could soon rid myself. I did not tell the Nicholsons then, that the only sleeping accommodation I had been able to find, after long search, everywhere being crowded for the fair, was in a slum house filled with the Irish horse-traders, I being allotted a bed of chairs in the family sitting-room, which was without a door.

I stayed with the Gypsies until near midnight. The owners of the lodging-house had asked me to be back before twelve when they would be locking the house. “Bat ‘uns be everywhere in the town during fairtime,” they had warned me. I did not want to leave the fair, they place and the people held me enthralled. The fires were piled higher and yet higher as the night grew chill and mists gathered from the river and moor. Many of the Gypsy men, and some of the women, were motto (drunk) by that hour, but harmless enough, only very gay, and prancing and screaming like the stallions. There were many groups of dancers, forming and disbanding, and then forming again. I never beheld any really inspired dancing, perhaps it was because the music was lacking, there not being one boshomengro (fiddler) at this fairus, only a few accordion players and some youths with mouth-organs. The dancing was either the Gypsy jig, or the more graceful whirling and high-stepping around the yog. Nothing to compare with the passionate dancing of the French and Spanish Gypsies to the throb of guitars and the sighing, crying, mandolins.

But there was memorable signing that night at Appleby. Songs sung in Romany, too. Gypsy songs about pooving of the gry in the rich ghivengro’s (farmer’s) meadow, and the Romanies being put into steripen (prison), and being petulengros (smiths), breaking down the bars and escaping back to the tans (tents). Dramatic songs indeed and known to many of the Gypsies there, for a throng of them joined loudly in the choruses and in most of the verses. A further popular song was of the fight of Gypsy poachers with the veshengro (game-keeper), a song rather of the character of “Tis my delight, On a shining night”. Some of the young Gypsy men had particularly sweet tenor voices. There was one chal with his hair hanging in long flaxen curls around his face, pale-fleshed as ivory, who sang with the far-carrying power and beauty of a nightingale; his name was Phoenix, he had an unsightly squint in one eye.

George told me that the singing and dancing might well last until the coming of the dawn, and continue through all of the following night. There were indeed both song and dance in full heart when I had to hasten from the fair to be back in the lodging-house at the latest hour allowed to me. Many Gypsies were then very motto. I wondered if the Irishmen would be drunken also.

Sadly I turned away from all the noise and the glitter of the fair and went towards the sleeping town. But the beauty of the night all around me, soon restored me to my former mood of elation. The sky continued that wondrous shade of aconite flowers, and the mists were rising, rising, from every field and from the breast of the river, drifting over the streets in fisher-nets of silver, or forming in wraiths shaped like swans upon the purple calm of the sky. Great heat was promised for the morrow. The old grey stone houses appeared to be in deep sleep, though several showed golden pheasant-eyes of lamplit rooms. How quiet and how frigid were the sleeping houses compared to the brilliance and the clamour of the Gypsy encampments on the fair site. I felt pity for the sleeping inmates of the houses, because that hour they saw not the fisher-nets of the mists, nor the pale wraiths sailing as swans over a purpled night sky pricked with stars.

The Irishmen were not yet in their beds when I returned, and not one of them was drunk. There was a man, Jarrett, with four grown sons with him, together they had brought over from Ireland more than twenty horses.

Page 46-53

CHAPTER II

 

Horse-traders in the Yorkshire Dales

 

The horse-traders of the Swaledale and the sister dales are mostly of one family, the Nicholsons; and they are part of the peculiar and fascinating way of life of the dales. The present generation of horse-traders can trace back their descent as far as the dalesmen have memories of horse-dealing with the Gypsies and others of like kind: and that is very far. The Nicholsons mostly deny Gypsy blood, though certainly many of that family, past and present, have married with the true kawlo rat (dark blood or Gypsy blood).

It is probable that the Nicholson family are descendants of the Scottish tinker tribes, with therefor the blood of the Pictish kings in their veins: they possess a marked dignity and nobility, and some of the women much beauty, while branch marriages of the family with Gypsies, and their constant association with them in their horse-trading, has caused them to resemble the Romany race in both appearance and character. The Nicholsons can speak and understand much Romany and in addition they have good knowledge of Shelta, which is the little known speech of the tinker brotherhood -”cant”, they call it.

Those of the Nicholson family whom I have known, possess Gypsy ways which are often far nearer to the true kawlo rat than is met with often amongst many of the Gypsies proper. They crave the free life of the open air, and are stifled in houses. They are ever away down the roads and over the moors – “jallin the drom”. They are exceptional horsemen, knowing mostly all that is to be known about horses, loving them, and possessing remarkable power over them; and are also expert shoe-smiths and wheelwrights. They are skilled in the things of the camp: tent-pitching, fire-lighting, cooking, mending. They are very knowledgeable concerning the wild life of the moors and the Pennine hills, some of them are also herbalists. They can doctor skilfully their own horses and dogs, also cows. And above al their characters are typical of the best traits found amongst the pure-bred Gypsy people. On the lighter side they are excellent singers and dancers, and the men are formidable pugilists and wrestlers.
All the northern Yorkshire dales bear the scars of the Nicholsons’ camp-fires. Very often I used to come across the black circles of charred earth, on my walks in Swaledale and Wensleydale. One such place, in regular use, was by the bridge across the beck which flowed through the woods wherein I was mostly making my home for two years, Barney Swale. My veterinary work often took me away from the dale, sometimes for weeks, and always on my return I would walk to the various camping places to see if “the Gypsies” had been. They had lit their fires often enough and gone away; I began to think that it was ordained that I should never meet with them. Sometimes the wood ash of a fire was yet warm beneath my hand, but the Gypsies were far away.
However, in the early spring of 1947, the Hutchinsons, above whose cottage I rented rooms, brought back the news from Reeth village that the Kakkis – being a local dialect name for the horse-traders – were back in the dale. They told further that the horse-traders had with them a magnificent red riding mare. The Hutchinsons’ schoolgirl daughter, Margaret, had long been promised a horse to ride at the local pony shows, and the Nicholsons had been asked to bring up the mare for trial that evening.
Several hours later there came to me the scent of woodsmoke, seeping up across the fields, from the camping place by the beck bridge. That wonderful Gypsy fragrance, wood smoke, and woodsmoke mingling with the fresh air of out-of-doors, which is best of all. At last the horse-traders were in the lane, and I was at Thiernswood! As soon as the smoke scent came to me I delayed not a minute, but hastened from the cottage away to the bridge, to see for myself what manner of people were the horse-traders, concerning whom I had heard so much accounts- sometimes legends -good, strange and, also, displeasing. I remember well how I ran all of the way down the lane, so much was my impatience. The beck bridge was a goodly distance out of sight. When I arrived there my eyes were well rewarded. On the short spring grass of the lane-side, al pricked with the sulphur stars of the primroses, a big brown and green painted vardo (caravan) was drawn up. A long, low tan (tent) of black canvas was pegged close by, and there was also a flat cart. Two large dray-horses cropped the primroses, and tethered to a gate-post was the red mare. She was superb; not a pure red, being patterned all over with golden dapple markings, as if the grass-starring of the primrose flowers was continued over the body of the horse. Her mane was like a long, fringed shawl of amber silk, draped around her proud neck.

And the horse-traders themselves; I saw the shapes of three men grouped around the leaping wood-fire that they had kindled. Two tall powerful bodies; one of lesser build. The horse-traders, hearing the tread of my heavy country boots on the stone path, turned to face me. Tom Nicholson was the eldest of the brothers whom I was to come to know well, and of the three men around the fire that day he was the most magnificent. The two fireside companions were his brother George and a Cockney soldier who was then apprenticing himself to the Nicholsons for the learning of horse-trading. Tommy’s build was tall and powerful, and he was sun-dark as a Spaniard, and with the deep-set, black, burning eyes of the Spaniard. His attire was very Gypsy. A brimless felt staadi (hat) of light blue colour atop his thick crop of peat-turf dark hair, a coral-tint dicklow (scarf), brown tweed jacket, fern-green waistcoat, fawn narrow-legged trousers, and big, very muddied, clumper boots. Especially memorable was the sight of his face dripping with blood welling from a deep cut above the right eye, and which injury seemed of no concern to him. He told me that he had been breaking green ash boughs for the fire, and one had cracked over-quickly and thus treated him.
George was of more slender build. He was hatless, his barley-coloured hair so thick and upstanding that it indeed
photos here, scan 21 & 22
bore resemblance to a stook of barley stood upon the earth brown flesh of his brow. Wide blue eyes of shy expression, so that when talking he was apt to keep them turned down in the direction of his boots. A dicklow of paisley design, red pattern on chrome, rough cloth suit of a fox colour, and a very tattered around the cuffs and trouser end. He was barefoot, his swarthy feet spread strong upon the earth.
The Cockney man looked as a sparrow in the company of two Gypsy peacocks; he in his drab tweed cap, dirty grey shirt and suit, and being aso so miserable of both build and expression of face. He indeed at that time was beginning to regret that he had ever had a wish for the country life of the horse-traders,and he quitted the Nicholsons soon after, returning to the narrow life of the streets and houses. He was a dealer in old bottles and jars.
The roadside setting for the Gypsies was admirable. The foreground of primrose-golded grass, the granite wall and the arch of the bridge raced the honey-brown waters of the beck – dark as the heather honey of the Pennine moors – now all tempestuous with the big volume of melted snow that was being borne there on journey to the equally flooded nearby river Swale. Far away, but not too distant to enter into the picture of the horse-traders, were the tall shapes of the Pennine hills, then turning as blue-purple as the lane-side dog-violets, in the settling dusk. Always the transcendent beauty of the Pennine hills as the back-cloth to the traders and their horses, and ever present also for most of the North Country horse fairs, which beginning at blackthorn time in March, continued in the many Yorkshire and Westmorland dales and  towns until the dying of the hill bracken in November.

I talked with the men on the ever fascinating subject of the buying and selling of horses and dogs. We exchanged words of the dialect of the traders, I giving Romany for their Cant. Our laughter added to the music of the beck waters. I was happy with the men; their conversation was filled with wit and also kindliness, and the open air is always the best place for talk, especially when there is the nearness of a great flaming wood-fire, colour of a bed of tulips, with its glow of ochres and golds and scarlets.
page 50

 

Amongst the subjects we discussed was that of pooving the gry, a matter known to al Gypsies and travellers with horses, and as old as horse- trading itself, this being the putting of horses into farmers’ fields after dark, to feed away the travel hunger of the animals, then removing them at dawn. It must be stated that wartime and present-time ploughing up of pasture land has often caused grass and hay shortage for the farmer’s own stock. But most travellers would pay for such grass feed for their animals; only the modern over-commercial farmer is become mean indeed, and frequently keeps count over every blade of grass in his fields, and has nothing to spare for the passing horses of the Gypsies and others, though they come but rarely and demand but little. He seldom gives thought to the fact that travellers’ horses in his lane must have need of green feed, and himself comes forward to offer a night’s grazing, such goodwill being a rare thing to meet with in the countryside of England in the present period of farming prosperity. So the Gypsies and other travellers often enough when the grazing is scant, poov the griaws.

Tommy told me a new version of poovin’:” Tell to the givengro (farmer) that you ‘ave intention to put your ‘orses into his poov (field) for feed. He’ll little think that you’ve intent to do wot you dare tell ‘im, he’ll think it a guid joke of yourn. Then come night, into the poov go the griaws, an’ youm can sleep well in your bed, fer if the ghivengro be out o’ bed in t’ night or afore youm in t’ mornin’, there is but to be sed that you told to ‘im your intention afore witnissis, and he sayin’ nowt, you took ‘is permission.” “But,” he said further, “if you’ve bin successful wi’ the poovin’, and not bin seen, then tis best to go round’ the poov ‘as no tales to tell on youm.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said, “when I jal the drom wi’ my own gry an’ vardo.” And we all laughed together in friendship.

 

 

The Gypsies brought the red mare to Thiernswood before the hastening dusk made the outdoor scene too dark to be able to see well the beauty of the horse that they wished to sell. The Hutchinsons and the young Margaret and I, all crowded in excitement around the mare, and the Gypsies talked the old talk of the horse-trade, their voices chaunting and soaring like larks. They told how their gry was the finest that had ever trod the Pennine roads, the swiftest, the most gentile, the most intelligent of all the griaws in the North Country, and the price that they wanted for her was so little that it was a joke on them for them to name it, and moreover was an insult to the most perfect of mares. But -we all being friends together- they were making a very special price for us. The old, old talk o the trader, the men backing-up each other in swift-spoken words, their eyes flashing, brown hands gesticulating, enjoying the trading. The Cockney in the background added his few words to the swift talk of the brothers, his words coming as but chirps of a sparrow. The price asked for the mare was fifty pounds; and this was higher than the Hutchinsons wanted to pay for a riding pony, and it looked as if the Gypsies were going to lead away the mare unsold. But already I loved the proud red creature, all dappled with gold like a thousand sovereigns, and I was determined not to lose her. So I myself then took up the trading and after one hour of amusing talk she became mine for forty pounds. I promised Margaret Hutchinson that she could ride the mare daily if she wished, for the girl loves horses passionately, and I have much friendship for Margaret. My purchase of a horse at that time was an extravagance, for I knew that my work for the rest of the year would be taking me much away from the north of England, and before the year’s ending I would be journeying to Mexico. But the trading had got into my blood, and I wanted that mare, and moreover I wanted my first horse to be from Gypsy traders and from no other.

The deal decided, George Nicholson, whose mare it was, then struck hands with me, palm upon palm, the old traditional sealing of a bargain, no papers necessary with written signatures, the striking of hands being enough. And when the money was paid to him, he returned to me “a bit o’ silver” the tradition of the vendor returning a piece of good-luck money -the lovva bock- to the purchaser. We had an old saddle and bridle at the cottage, and i was able that evening to have my first ride on my new purchase. I had already tied her up and down the Thiernswood path before purchasing, and found her to be spirited and fleet of hooves. I gave my mare the new name of “greensleeves”, and sprinkled beck water upon her fine red brow as I so named her. I then cantered her away over the moors which came down almost to the cottage. As the mare took me swiftly over the springy heather turf, mysterious and wonderful in the evening twilight, I knew a great happiness had come to me, and once more I blessed the Gypsies.
The following noon I took Greensleeves over the moors towards Muker, for my first long ride. I went first to the Nicholsons’ camp to tell the brothers how very pleased I was with the horse that they had traded me. I was wearing a shirt of geranium red colour and a larch green hat, I loving Gypsy clothes of bright colours. George Nicholson came forward to tell me that the sight of me on the mare so well pleased his eyes, that as reward he would have a luck gift waiting for me when I returned from my ride. Throughout my journey over the moors I thought childishly about my promised gift. Above all people the Gypsies love the giving and receiving of gifts, and I possess a collection of Gypsy komelo dinos, from crude clothes-pegs and artificial flowers to many baskets, a fine penknife and beautiful ear-rings.

As I rode down to homeward lane to Barney bridge, I could see there the tall figure of George awaiting me, his fair hair blowing like flowering broom in the wind. I halted Greensleeves alongside of him and from behind hi back he brought forth his promised gift, which he shyly presented to me, his blue eyes the meanwhile kept turned towards hi boots. It was a fine-looking snaffle horse-bit.

He then told me: “there’s guid luck for youm wi’ this bit, neer do you part wi’ it.”

Delighted with the gift, I thanked George sincerely and told him of all truthfulness that the bit would stay with me for ever.

The next day the Nicholsons took their vardo further up the dale, and then continued to sleep crammed into the small hoop tent for their further brief time of horse-trading. I was sorry when the vardo went, for it was a good place in which to be on stormy nights, warm and cheerful with its wood-fed stove where potatoes and chestnuts could be well roasted, and when the wild moorland winds came snorting down the hills, the vardo would rock like a cradle, and the side windows make music with the flying rain and drumming sleet. The further days of trading produced a string of horses of all kinds, cropping the spring grass alongside Barney beck, and Greensleeves cried out in delight whenever we passed by them. She was a true Gypsy horse and liked company.

I shall always remember the first departure of the Nicholsons that I witnessed, so dramatic and so colourful and typical Gypsy. I was away on the hillside with the three dogs, exercising them there on the heather stretches, when i saw the Nicholsons jalling the drom. They were going high up the mountains into Askrigg, a ten-mile ride up the sheer mountain road. The hour was then evening, the wild violet-blue hills again the splendid setting for the men and horses. The setting was not wholly purple, for there was rose tent there also, there being a wild weather sunset above the hills, gold and rose wrack of clouds staining the twilight purple. The mounting flat-cart driven by Tommy, was etched against that painted cloth of hills and evening sky, as also was the figure of the man and the white horse harnessed to the cart. The cart itself was piled with brown sacks, making lovely shapes there, each sack stuffed full with sheep wool and skins, in which articles the Nicholsons also traded, the pear-blossom white curls of the spilling wool garlanding the heads of the sacks. Lying amidst that cargo was the Cockney, his cap pulled low over his eyes, and thus blinded to the passing beauty of which the Nicholsons were also so well aware. Then in the rear came the long string of newly purchased horses, with George sitting astride one tall roan, riding bareback in his accustomed way. All was silhouetted against the hill scene. The men saw me with the dogs, and waved their hands in farewell, and I waved back at them with great bunch of wild cherry blossom that I had been cutting. And so they passed by, away over the hills, to the ever enchanting music of beating hooves and clatter of cartwheels and the thin tintinnabulation of harness fittings. I well remember how the rose hue of the sky turned to the red of Gypsy fire flames as the men and horses went over the hill ridge, and how the flame colour was reflected on the metal parts of the cart and of the horse bridles, and etched the splendid faces of the traders.

Pages 34-45

The fields were close to the sea, happy places, swept by tangy winds. The winds brought with them not only the scents of ocean and estuary and marsh, but the wine of the blossoming gorse therein, and the sun-released resin of the pine-trees. And happy, happy work it was! With a bundle of the frail, saffron-hued, chip-wood strawberry gathering baskets tied to a belt of string on to my back, I passed up and down along the rows of plants, my eager, juice-stained hands pulling the cardinal gold-seeded fruits from their hiding places beneath the green capes of the leaves, piling the fruit harvest into the baskets and ever filling my mouth with dew, and when the dew as all dried away in the later hours of the morning, their their juicy hearts warm with the fire of the sun. Further, the fruit-gathering was only part of my pleasure in the strawberry fields; for to gladden my eye and my heart, there were a family of Gypsies employed there. The family were of the Lee tribe, and consisted of four sun gilded, fair-haired young women, and their dark brother.

When I first spoke of Gypsies to the young women, I observed their faces tighten. Remembering then the lesson that I had learnt from other Gypsies, who through persecution have come to possess racial shame, I realized that I was again meeting with Gypsies who through persecution by the gawje were brought to denial of their blood. I sorrowed for them, well recalling the many times in my school and university days when even mild racial persecution made me long to deny my Jewish blood: and sometimes I did deny it. Therefore I sympathized with the Gypsy women and did not reveal that I knew them to be Gypsies. Their names were Hope, Mercy, Patience, and Constance! They were difficult to distinguish from one another, all being so much alike in colouring, features, figure and dress. They were not Romany beauties. Their faces were wrinkled like those of old people, although not one of them had passed thirty years. Their eyes were pale blue, and without the usual flashing quality of the Gypsy. But their features were typically Gypsy, especially the facial shape, with the high cheek-bones and powerful nose. All the four sisters wore their fair hair in the same style, centre-parted and the ends carefully arranged into long, pale curls, like sprays of laburnum blossom, drooping around the lined faces. Some days the sisters wore their front hair in strands in the traditional “kiss” curls, plastered upon their sun-brown brows in rows of golden crescents.

Always the Gypsy sisters were dressed in clean, prim straight-cut dresses of printed cotton. They never went barefoot, but kept severely to their broken leather boots. They were very silent workers. Only sometimes did they give a brief song, or whistle a little, and ironically their singing was always in Romany. There was no chattering amongst them as they toiled. When we came to know eachother I found them very gentle and warm-hearted, a pleasure to have as work companions, kindly and helpful.
I am always happy working with Gypsies, mostly it is because they, being true children of Nature, never create discord in the fields or countryside. Very different it was when parties of townspeople from Lymington and other towns came to the strawberry fields to pick their own baskets of fruit for purchase. The peace of the place was always shattered with their strident voices, loud laughter, and the barking of the dogs which they generally brought with them and which urinated on the fruits. The careless, uncaring feet of the unskilled people crushed any amount of the lovely fruits. Fortunately the townspeople came rarely, they usually preferring to obtain their strawberries without the back-breaking toil, ready picked in baskets.
Now when the four Lee sisters did call to each other down the strawberry rows, their voices came clear and sweet to one’s ears as the piping of blackbirds. And what a multitude of blackbirds there were around those fields, waiting for the human workers to move away down the rows, so that they could imitate them and fill themselves with the honey-dripping fruits. Black wings fanning over the green and the crimson of the strawberry beds; dark shadows of the birds endlessly passing over the sun-baked pathways; passing swiftly as the minutes of our days in that happy work.

 

On the second day of my coming to the strawberry fields, the young man, Bill Lee, brother to the sisters, came to work alongside me, picking the same rows with me. He was thin and dark, and altogether unlike his sisters in nature and appearance. Whereas the sisters suited their names and were of passive temperaments, the brother was excitable and restless.

Bill much reminded me of a squirrel; those animals which, akin to the birds in swiftness and lightness, fled through the forest tree-tops. His swift movements and the brightness of his small squirrel-like; only the locks of hair which pushed beneath the grey cloth cap which he always wore, were neither russet nor smoky coloured, but black as the eyes. Strangely it was Bill who showed me the first squirrel’s nest that I had ever beheld. My knowledge of the woodland animals is quite large, but I had never before known that squirrels made nests in which to rear their young.

Bill was a very helpful fellow worker. He took trouble to teach me the elementary things which make one a successful strawberry gatherer. The quick nipping of the fruit stalks below the green sepals, using long fingernails, the rejection of slug-eaten, over-ripe or rotten fruits – several of which will spoil a whole basket. Also the clearing of the fruits from the roots of the plants upwards, and above all the avoidance of mere “top” picking, which means a big wastage of fruits, and also earns for one later of the anger of the foreman when the rows are inspected.
On the second day that I worked with Bill I began deliberately to bring Romany words into my speech. The baskets became rightly, kipsis, the grass, chor, the leaves patrins, and for the strawberries themselves I used the Romany names of loli durils, red berries or pooskeni durils, pooskeni being literally – straw, and used by the Gypsies to denote the straw commonly littered under the fruits to keep the ripe berries from soiling on the earth.

Each time that I used a Romany word, I saw the colour heighten in the young man’s brown face, and his eyes widen in the excitement. Then when we had worked two long rows together and I had exclaimed that it was tatcho bootsi, real good work, he abruptly caught hold of my hand and told me that I must be a Gypsy myself.

“I sed to me sisters as you was a Romany!” he exclaimed. “Be you then? Tell us then! You so brown an always wi’out chockers! (boots)”

“I think that I must be part Romany,” I answered. “I always want to think so, for for me they are the best people, and many of them are my friends.”

“Us be Romany, pooro (pure) Romany, no didikais (half-breeds).”

He then, without further word, went running to his sisters to tell them about my having been rockering (talking) Romany, and that I was friendly towards “the race”.

And they, more like children than grown women, came chasing after their brother back to me. Oh, how they piped like blackbirds! They embraced me, and pulled out strands of my hair and wound the strands round their brown fingers. Their passivity had all left them.

I returned the embraces of the Gypsies. Yet their pleasure was entirely pathetic in my eyes, because I realized the reason for their rejoicing. It was the gratefulness of people who thinking of themselves as hated find themselves beloved. And now that the sisters had confessed their kawlo rat (dark blood, Gypsy blood) they could be entirely at ease with me, no longer constantly watchful that I did not learn their racial secret. How unnecessary it had all been.

Henceforward the four sisters made a further sister of me, and we talked most intimately together; often enough we talked of men. I was loving a man very much in those days. He was far away from the forest. Sometimes I posted to him baskets of strawberries.

And Bill! I became his favourite of the strawberry fields, though more and more workers came into employment as the peak of the strawberry season was approached. It was necessary to get the crop picked and marketed speedily, for it spoiled quickly, and also the blackbird raids were heavy, and flocks of thrushes came to join them. (Though I, not being the owner of the fields, loved the presence of the birds.) The new workers were experienced fruit gatherers and did not create discord in the fields in the manner of the town visitors. At the end of the day there was always distribution of a basket of strawberries for each of the pickers wishing to take back some fruit for their homes or friends; the fruit was priced very cheaply for the workers. Bill was in charge of the distribution and his favouring of my basket was always occasion for teasing and mirth. On my basket only a name would be carefully pencilled by Bill – JUDY.

Bill taught me many new Romany words, also herbal lore and field and wood lore – he being not only self-educated in those three important lores, but well instructed also by his mother, who was a true “deep” Romany. He taught me much about Gypsy food. How to store and ripen berries and nuts which had to be gathered early before the birds and squirrels took all. He told me how his people store the wild crabapples, in pits of straw, to prepare them for eating at Christmas, when they are taken from the pits, crisp and sweet and coloured like rubies.
His hands were so trained and swift to capture things. And he brought to me as I worked down the strawberry rows, the young of rabbits, chicks from late broods of partridges and morrhens, little speckled toads, and frogs green as emeralds, great gaudy dragonflies and the rare varieties of butterflies which frequented the forest. He never hurt wings or tender limbs, not even the frailest insect took harm in his skilful hands. The Gypsy knew of my detestation of man’s tyranny over the animal world, and he respected my feelings, and was very careful  with all the small things that he captures and brought to please my eyes.

I endeavoured to repay Bill’s kindness by teaching him my herbal veterinary cures for use on the dogs and horses at the Gypsy encampment. I also copied out for him some Gypsy poems that he wanted to read and learn; a few of them were my own. His pleasure was extreme when he first heard that non-Gypsy people had written poems in praise of Romanichals. Bill was a hungry reader, and usually carried a paper-covered book in his pocket. Any written thing appeased his hunger, although his favourite reading was Western novels, because always there are horses and amazon women, and swift pace, in Western tales; and Bill loved all three. If many Gypsies could be educated to read, I am convinced, from my knowledge of Gypsy character in many countries, they would be the most ardent of readers. For the Romanies love “tales”, and it is for that reason that, unable to read the inventions of the gawje writers, they have created such a fine collection of folklore of their own making, to tell around the camp fires o’ nights. One has only to study a copy of collected Gypsy tales to garnered and published by the Gypsy Lore Society, and edited by Dora Yates, to have much evidence of the Gypsy art of storytelling: and stores are always invented for an audience. The Romany people will further always provide an excellent company for a reading of poetry. Being a race with music throbbing in their dark blood, all true music will hold them enchanted, and the music of spoken words can be very sweet. I have ready poetry to Bill and his four sisters, in the strawberry fields, and many a tie to groups of Surrey Gypsies, around the campfires: by firelight or moonlight I have read. And when the reading magic is ended, a rippling has risen up from the Gypsy audience, long drawn like the wind caught in tremulous foliage of ash trees. I know that much of Bill’s money earned in the strawberry harvest, was expended on candles by which to read long hours in a tent, by candlelight, with night breezes constantly snuffing out the flame and suffocating the occupant with the sickening reek of smoking fat. Having myself tented out for a year I know overmuch about reading in tents by candlelight.

 

There came to work in the strawberry fields, Martha, the wife of Bill’s brother Joe. She was a daughter of Swiss peasants working a small farm, and she had come to England for domestic employment. She had met Joe Lee when he was serving as a soldier, and had married him. She had already three children, and was again pregnant. We strawberry gatherers used to tell Martha what a wonderful complexion the new child would have because of the countless pounds of berries that she ate daily during the fieldwork.

I became good friends with Martha Lee, liking her warm nature and her happy company, for she was always laughing and singing. She liked me because I shared her passion for the earth. She told me that when she first saw me in the fields the very way that I put my bare feet on the earth as I walked told her that I was as much a peasant as herself. We both also shared a love for cows, and we would talk for hours concerning them, their beauty and their wisdom. She gave me a recipe for Gypsy bread. When she came to know also of my admiration for the Gypsies, she confessed to me that once she had despised them, but now found them to be the best of people. She told me further concerning her early married life with her Gypsy husband, made unusual because of his great fear of confessing to her his Gypsy blood. A true story worth the retelling.

Martha met her husband in the Channel Islands and they married there. Later he was able to rent a small house near Lymington and thus brought her to his native New Forest. He would never tell her anything concerning his parents; he pretended estrangement from them. He never told her even that Lymington was his birth town. Martha, however, noticed her husband’s familiarity with the Forest district, and that he was known to many people there, and became convinced that he was of Forest origin. She became certain, further, that he had parents, or at least relatives, living there.

But he kept her most carefully from meeting with any of his family. Such strange behaviour of her husband continued for weeks, and then extended into months; and by then she knew with certainty that her husband was visiting his people in some part of Lymington. Sometimes he took their child with him. Eventually she came to thinking that her husband must be ashamed of her; and she was deeply hurt. He furthermore insulted her by refusing absolutely to allow her to talk with any of his friends. That strange affair became the cause of daily bitter quarrels between Martha and Joe, despite the fact that they loved each other. Martha was finally telling her husband that if he considered her unfit to meet his people she would no longer continue to be his wife. After three months of increasing estrangement from her husband, an event occurred which caused her to learn the secret of his family and thus the reason for his strange behaviour.

One mid-morning, as Martha was cleaning the upstairs front windows of her home, she noticed a strange-looking old lady approaching the house. The old lady was pushing a perambulator heaping with rags; the rags coming almost as high as the woman herself. The strange person, furthermore, had a clay pipe in her mouth. As she approached closer to the house, the clay pipe was hastily removed, and put away in a pocket of the long black apron that she wore, Her garb was very unlike that of any other woman seen in Lymington, as also was the colour of her face, which was horny-looking and as brown as an oak-apple. Martha had seen Gypsies oftentimes around her home in the Swiss mountains, and she recognized the peculiar figure passing by her house as being of the Gypsy race. But she also recognized some further thing, which was the remarkable facial likeness that the Gypsy bore to Joe, her husband.

Martha placed herself at the window in a position which would prevent the Gypsy from seeing her as she passed by. From there she observed the old lady pushing the perambulator very slowly past the house, and staring in at the windows with unusual interest for a stranger. Beyond the house she stayed her walking, looked long back at the place then took the pipe from her pocket, lit up, put it in her mouth, and continued up the road, then moving briskly.

That she had seen that day her husband’s mother, Martha was entirely convinced. She had wanted to shout after the Gypsy and have her come into the house and be entertained there, but because of the wounding of her feelings by her husband’s behaviour, she had felt too shy of the stranger to do this. When Joe returned from work in the evening he found Martha dressed in her coat and hat. She immediately told him that she would not be kept away from his parents one day longer. She dressed either to go with him to visit his family, or to leave the house for ever, taking the child with her. Martha’s firm and determined action was the result of much thought. After seeing the Gypsy woman she had long meditated on the behaviour of her husband and had decided that because he knew of her dislike of Gypsies he had delayed telling her of his Gypsy parentage, and finally had failed altogether to collect sufficient courage to make his confession. She had recalled the frequent times that he had mentioned Gypsies to her, and how she, never suspecting his Gypsy blood, had always spoken ill concerning them. Quite possibly he never would have told if she had not learnt for herself, and was able to force the telling. The old Gypsy’s passing by that morning had been a great blessing indeed for the happiness of the household. She told nothing to her husband concerning the Gypsy woman, but seeing her absolute determination that evening, he took her forthwith to the Gypsy camp in the forest. “These are my people,” he said.

And from that day Martha’s marriage continued in unspoilt happiness. On entering the Gypsy camp she had recalled the known antagonism of the Gypsies to others who were not of their peculiar blood, and feared that the family might not like her. Her fears proved to be needless ones; all Joe’s relations showed immediate friendliness to her, for he had always spoken good things concerning his wife. And for her part, Martha sincerely liked the Gypsy family, including the five who worked in the strawberry fields. Thus there was plenty of Gypsy love surrounding Martha as she picked strawberries at my side, filling skilfully her baskets, and also her wide laughing mouth, with the glowing berries.

 

 

In the forest I met with Gypsies of the Stanley, Page, Lee, Cooper, and Smith families. Their vardos and black tans were often stationary, but most of them possessed good forest ponies and dogs. They were skilful in most of the Gypsy trades, and could speak well their own Romany language.

Many of them were knowledgeable herbalists, and willing to share their knowledge with me in return for small kindnesses which I did for their families. While I was in the New Forest I had one of my really memorable experiences in the power of herbs: it being one of the veterinary medicine. A young riding mare, in her greed for corn, leapt a dividing partition in her stable and got into the place where there was the corn-chaffing machine. She panicked, commenced kicking, and cut her body well nigh to death on the blades of the machine. Some areas of her body had the muscles sliced through to the bone. Shortly before the mare’s mishap the owners had had another valuable mare in an accident, a road fall causing grazing of a shoulder. A veterinary surgeon had been called to the animal and following orthodox treatment he had at once injected with anti-tetanus serum. That mare had died in a high fever. Therefor for the second injured mare I was asked to apply herbal treatment. Accordingly, I used the popular New Forest Gypsy remedy of a’brew of elder leaves for the dressing of the terrible wounds, and I had the animal dosed internally with garlic to keep her bloodstream healthy and antiseptic during the treatment. I also prescribed total fasting on water for the first two days of the cure. The result of application of Gypsy medicine was – that the mare did not die. Furthermore, all her wounds, even the very deep ones, scabbed over or closed up within five days of the treatment. Although for two months she moved her limbs stiffly as a result of the severe wounding, she was soon being ridden again and no unsightly scar tissue marked any part of her body, fine new hair growing all over the injured areas.

During my long hours of horse-riding through the green world of the forest, I met with many memorable pictures of Gypsy beauty. The faces of some of the New Forest Gypsies were so golden of tint that they indeed were the colour of kingcup flowers. Those strong-boned golden faces, framed in the swathes of hair black as the bog pools, with round brass ear-rings shining through the hair-gloom, cords of coral beads adorning the dawny throats, the ragged clothes of many colours, all would overcome me with the stirring of those depths of emotions reached only by unutterable beauty. I would halt my horse and call aloud my feelings: “Beautiful! Beautiful! Oh Romanies too shan rinkeno (Oh Gypsies, you are beautiful)!” And they would laugh at me; but their faces glowed with pleasure at my words, so that they turned from the hue of kingcups to the deeper one of marsh marigolds. Those wild plants of the forest, how abundant they were, and how they were part of the beauty of the Gypsies. Hand-woven baskets filled with forest flowers or berries or nuts, hooked over swarthy arms and resting on shapely, swaying hips: baskets holding portions of the summer sky with the marsh gentians were heaped therein, or the purple of the night when the contents were bilberries or blackberries.

Singing, singing, Gypsy voices heard down the silver aisles of the forest, with the rustle of ash foliage and the water-reeds and willows for orchestra.

Once I met with a Gypsy Chal (boy), violet dusk over the forest and the evening star in the sky. The lad had a fiddle and was serenading a nightingale singing at him from a wild rose bush all in the sunset flower.
Then the golden beacons of the Gypsy fires found in dark glades! The fires ringed by mysterious fire-worshipping figures, the figures pressed close against the molten golden pyramids of flaming wood, as can only Gypsy or Red Indian people without singeing their skin with the out-leaping flames or blinding their eyes with the pungent smoke that wood fires create. The black perri (cooking pot) hooked on the heavy iron perri kosht (rod) swaying in the crimson blaze, and grouped close by, other rounded black shapes of tents. Saffron litter of the peg shavings, heaped into mounds, ready for feeding into the hungry jaws of the fire. The lithe forms of the lurcher dogs criss-crossing in front of the yog (fire), awaiting their share of the food being cooked in the big pot.

The mystery of the Gypsies of the forest…an old woman skimming a pond of the green frog-spit; her utensil an ancient beaver Gypsy hat. The strange form of the old Gypsy reflected in the area of pond cleared of the green scum. Low-hanging plaits of greying hair. The horny, brown face, marked like a walnut shell, with lines of weather and of age. Eyes of the yellow hue and with the glitter as seen sometimes in foxes. I ask her what she is doing with her strange fishing, and she tells me that she is collecting pond scum t make a green dye for the curtains of her youngest son’s van, he newlywed. I ask her if green is not a colour of misfortune, and she tells me that it is the colour of fertility. I think she is most likely collecting frog-spit for use in Gypsy magic. For there is much magic yet practiced in the secret parts of the forest by Gypsies and non-Gypsies. A new forest priest told me that he has to guard carefully the sanctified bread of his church, for it has been stolen often enough, it being one of the basic requirements in black magic practiced by a non-Gypsy sect from Portsmouth.
I come across a Gypsy man, burning toadstools alongside a great elm branch felled by a storm wind. The Gypsy tells me that there is a nest of wild honey bees in the branch, and he is driving out the bees with the toadstool smoke, stupefying them in order to get at the honey. If I will wait awhile I shall taste of the best honey of all my years on earth, for the honey will be of gorse and lime blossom. So I tether my horse and I wait; and a great store of honey is soon revealed in that branch. I am told to slip my hand into it and eat; and I find the Gypsy’s boastin to be true, the taste is unearthly. The Gypsy makes me a crock from a piece of old tin, and gives me all the honey that it will hold. He will take no payment: he tells me that I kept him good company and my talk was pleasant to his ears.

A young Gypsy woman labouring in childbirth in forest glade. Her bed a litter of green fern, curtained around with the sweet-breathed briar roses. The birth of the babe, the biting through of the umbilical cord to give the separate life, the towelling of the infant with fern, the laving of the mother’s stained limbs in forest pool and then the triumphant walk of the mother back to the tents of her people. She clasps to a bared breast a new Gypsy babe, strong and vital as one of the red cubs of a vixen, which also is littered unaided in a den in the forest’s green heart.

Pages 19-33

*bonus post this week as a thanks to everyone starting this journey with me

CHAPTER I

 

Early Gypsy Influences

 

The Gypsies had an influence over my mind even in my early childhood. Alice Sedgeley, Shropshire countrywoman, and nurse to my three sisters and two brothers, told me that as a child I possessed an unusual dread of the Gypsies. She told me how at certain lanes and places on our daily country walks in the Northenden district, outside Manchester, I would pull at her hands and sometimes fling my arms around her legs to check her progress, imploring her: “not that way! Not that way! We might meet the Gypsies!”

Doubtless that early concern of mine with the Gypsies was unknowingly created by our nurse herself, for she controlled us wild children of Turkish blood so alien to her own quiet Celtic nature, with such threats as: “I’ll have the Gypsies take the lot of you!” or “I’ll give you all to the plant woman!” “Not me! Not me!” I would scream meaning that the others could be thus treated but I must be spared. For I was filled with one hundred thousand fears of which the others felt nothing at all, and my brothers and sisters laughed into the face of Nanny, when she threatened the Gypsies upon them. Thus the dreadful threat came to be reserved for me alone. Let me say here that Nanny was a beloved person to us children, and she well returned the love that we outpoured upon her.

In reality there were few Gypsies in the Northenden and our West Didsbury area where we children were taken on our daily walks. There were some knife-grinders and chair menders, Gypsy men, met with occasionally, and women and girls hawking pegs, and there were a few stationary caravans on a stretch of wasteland by the river Mersy, but few others. However, in the early spring and autumn months, the Gypsy wildflower gatherers came to the river fields in some numbers, and culled the wild daffodils and wood anemones, and in the yellowing autumn grasses the dew-tinselled mauve autumn crocuses – frail as moth wings. Now a great colony of council houses has covered that far-stretching green sash of meadows, which once had occupied a whole afternoon of swift walking for us children to travel all of its green loveliness. Yet, even so, both wild daffodils and autumn crocuses are still to be found inthe remnants of those Mersey fields; if one knows where. But the Gypsies come no more; and Nanny, our childhood guide, lies in her grave.

The Gypsy flower-gatherers had always deeply awed me, for they had used to bear away with them over the fields great baskets heaped with gold and silver – in daffodil and wood-anemone time, and mauve in the crocus harvest. Whereas my sisters and brother and I, searching ceaselessly, never succeeded in obtaining more than handfuls of such wild flowers. There was something mysterious, bewitched indeed, in the laden Gypsy baskets.

The plant-woman visitor to my home was my greatest Gypsy fear, she being a true old Romany. She was always garbed outlandishly in bottle-green cloak of immense proportions, like one of the Mersy meadows wrapped around her very tall and thin body. Her had was witch-like, a high one of brown felt, pointed like a church steeple, and into which she used to put apples, oranges, nuts and suchlike, which she usually received on her visits. For my father, being a typical Oriental, was very strict about true hospitality being meted to these callers whom he classified as “the poor”. The plant-seller came into that class, although Nanny would say scornfully that she had stored away more gold than we would be likely to possess in our days on earth; and that all Gypsies possessed squirrel-heaps of gold and corals. As my mother was a good customer for the old Romany’s ferns, and as she always received pleasant treatment at our house, the Gypsy was a frequent caller, usually in the later noon. I would always then hide myself in the long curtains at the nursery window, and with fear-tormented heart wait there for the plant-woman to leave. Always I wondered how many stolen children she had wrapped in her green cloak, and always I dreaded that perhaps on her latest visit she had added one of my brothers or sisters to her store. Therefore, immediately I had watched the Gypsy pass through the gates there had come from me the most nerve-tearing part of the visit, my searching out of my sisters and brothers to know of their safety.

After I had overcome my childhood dreads concerning the Gypsies they went almost from my thoughts and life. I certainly had an especial liking for all of the books of George Borrow, particularly Lavengro; Keats’s Meg Merrilees enchanted me, and Matthew Arnold’s Scholar Gypsy was my favourite poem. The sweet haunting sadness of The Scholar Gypsy! – it remains still amongst the poems that I love best, and is one of the few long narrative poems that I carry with me on my travels. Yet otherwise, except for schoolroom reading, the Gypsies had gone far from my mind.

It was not until I had finished with school and university, and began to garner for myself a further and unorthodox education from the life of the fields and woods, that my interest in the Romany people became again powerful. Henceforth it was to be undying.

My change from the confined life of the university to the unconfined one of “the wind on the heath”, was not immediate. I first had to endure two years of self-enforced imprisonment in London, before I was satisfactorily free of my chosen work, which was veterinary, to be able to live free in the fields. The success of my first veterinary book, and the herbal veterinary treatments that I was pioneering, had by then earned me sufficient money to be able to leave the squalor of the town which I detested, and to tent out in the green fields, Therefore, one April day in the year 1936, I loaded a few necessary possessions on to a lorry which I had hired to take me from London away to sweet-breathed sea-marshes beyond Chichester. Those possessions were supplemented by a new camping tent, a boat, and my dogs. My dogs were four adult Afghan hounds and a litter of six puppies of that same breed. It was a memorable day for me when I exchanged the paddington slum for the Sussex marshes. The night hours in the sordid Paddington street had been hideous. The prostitutes had gathered in my strip of garden, trampling the lavender and rosemary bushes which I had succeeded in growing and getting to flower in that sour earth. But what had been more unlovely had been the almost nightly street battles between the drunken Welsh and the drunken Irish brotherhoods, who had met and quarrelled and warred outside the public house facing my veterinary place. The street was made hideous with the battle-cries of the aggressors and the lamentations of the defeated, for many a man and woman were flung into the gutter during the fighting.

There had also been a Fascist meeting-room nearby; and at the ending of the meetings the black-shirted thugs had strutted in the streets shouting: “Death to the Jews! Death to the Jews!” I exchanged in one day all that man-made dreadfulness for the green wonder of a country field in April. A field thronging with skylarks and pewits, its borders braided feet wide with flaxen satin ribbons of primrose flowers. Dear Lord! my heart soared to the sun with those carolling skylarks, and at night in the flowering thorn trees the nightingales continued for me Nature’s song of welcome to the Gypsy life.

There in Sussex I began to meet and talk with the Gypsies. They would be out on the marshes after the great hares that dwelt there, or gathering withies and osiers for basket-making, or cutting the willow boughs for clothes-pegs which was one of their chief articles of trade. Seeing me out walking with my foreign-looking Afghan dogs and my two goats, the Gypsies would stay and talk with me. At that time they were still for me but “Gypsies”, mysterious, thought-provoking and now very attractive people. They no longer frightened me. I thought about them in the words of John Clare: “I cannot help but love the Gypsies, for like the wild flowers they are beautiful.”

Mostly the Gypsies provoked thought of the most exotic flowers of the English woods, the gaudy, gold-freckled, fritillary flowers, swaying in rhythmical dance in secret places, strangely scented, strangely coloured, alluring.

The Gypsies, appreciating my interest in dogs, goats, and horses, began to teach me their herbal medical lore. I repaid them with gifts of goat cheeses, and butter and honey, and other things that they liked. I was not a vegetarian in those days, and I had some remarkable meals with the Gypsies, such as omelettes of rooks’ or moorhens’ eggs; smoked hams of badgers; soups made of seaweeds and snails; and fresh elder blossoms fried whole in batter; also a great variety of mushrooms and lichens, boiled and fried; stewed shoots of bracken fern which tasted and ate like asparagus, and their most prized dish, clay-baked hedgehog, fattened previously on milk and apples, stuffed with boiled and pounded beechnuts and chestnuts.

After over two years of natural living on the Sussex marshes, the war came in 1939 in all its horror over England. I applied for Land Army work and was put on a waiting list and advised to continue with my veterinary studies. I am a pacifist and would have no part in any type of killing activity, I therefore decided to supplement my veterinary work with that of herb-gatherer. I chose for such work one of the most untamed tracts of land in England, the hills and heaths of wild Exmoor. Sphagnum moss, which grew in abundance there, was needed for wound dressing and absorbent bandages, and a London firm promised to take all that I gathered. I was also to collect whortleberries needed for dyes as well as for food. Engaged in such Romany work, very soon I met again with the Gypsy people.

The country fold of Sumerset and Devonshire have long called the Gypsies by the name of “broomstick” or “broomsquires”. Doubtless that name was acquired by the Gypsies from their hawking of brooms and brushes – yoosering koshts being the Romany name for such articles, from yooser – to clean (a corruption of the Hebrew word Kosher). Perhaps also the Gypsies gained the title of “broomstick squires” from their known marriage tradition, much practised in Somerset, of the leaping over a broomstick by the wedded pair. Gypsy Will Smith of Surrey told me that such broomstick marriages are nearly always outside the church, and therefore not officially legal ones. He said that a large percentage of Gypsy weddings are of that kind, and all of his family were so married, the Koscht (stick) at Gypsy nuptials usually being a branch of green broom. If the branch be in golden flower it is considered a good omen for the fertility of the union.

If the woman’s skirt touches the leaves or flowers as she leaps the broomstick it is believed that either she is no virgin or maye is already pregnant on the wedding day. If the man’s trousers touch the stick it is held that he will be false to his bride. Thus the Gypsy chals and racklis (lads & lasses) leap the broom-wands high as the wild red deer of Exmoor. The fir copses of Somerset and Devon provide the Gypsies with the best of sticks for their broom, brush and mop making. “No koshtis be straighter or better wearin’ than lengths o’ fir”, declare the Romanies.

The gawje people of the West Country have opinion that Romanies are hostile and surly characters, keeping company only with each other, except when mingling with non-Gypsies in the inns, then insolently talking amongst themselves in their gibberish speech that none but the broom-people can understand. Many a Somerset public house bears a shameful notice in street windows: “No Gypsies served here”.

I met with Loveridges, Smiths, Grays, Francombes, and Hollands, various families of those tribes, and found them easily the kindest-natured people in the West Country. Quick and imaginative minds they nearly all possessed, and a humour which danced and rippled like the amber trout streams of the moors. They knew the moor as intimately as, or better than, the red deer; every bird and animal and wild flowers, they knew. Once two brothers, Chilcotts, took me to a heather tract close by Dunkery beacon to see one of the strangest sights on earth, the love dancing of adders. (Years later I was to witness a further dancing of snakes in the mountains above the Emek valley in Israel.) The adder dance was a most extraordinary sight, the advancing and retreating, the twining and twisting of the slim, supple bodies. And always the thin tongues extended as the creatures danced, stirring the dust up over the flowering heather, slithering through the roseate honey-drenched groves of blossom. The movement of the snakes was graceful and symmetrical as ripples across deep and still water when a pebble is flung therein: unforgettable.

Many and many a day I spent with the Broomstick Squires on the lone reaches of Exmoor, when I was at my whortleberry and sphagnum moss gathering, tramping the copses and the peaty hollows of the moor where the best of such produce was to be found. In those days my dog was a great pony-size, Irish wolfhound bitch, named Music; amber-eyed, and coated in long shaggy hair the colour of the moorland mists. The wolfhound worked at my side, pulling up the moss with her teeth. Also she took her part in the bearing home of the harvest, for she would carry on either side of her, in pack-horse fashion, a wide sack filled to the neck with the green, silken moss. I myself bore one sack upon my back. Between us we could carry over half a hundredweight of sphagnum on a walk of several miles back to the drying and sorting shed that I had rented.

Many of the Somerset Gypsies themselves were herb or fern gatherers. They also collected the wild fruit harvest of whortleberries and blackberries for sale to the shops; and they cut watercress. In the Christmas weeks they bore cartloads or handbarrow fuls of holly and mistletoe into the towns. Springtime saw them hawking wild daffodils and I was reminded of the Mersey fields of my childhood.

The Exmoor Gypsies succeeded the sussex ones as my professors of herbal medicine; and as we worked together at our gathering tasks, we would have much talk concerning the “virtues” of herbs. They shared my near worshipful regard for the greatest of all the medicinal herbs, wild garlic, the famed poruma of the Romanies, which grows around the borders of exmoor wherever there is a river or rivulet and also fills many a Somerset and Devon lane with its pungent scent.

There was often talk of a famed Gypsy herbalists, one John Pedlow, who had travelled Somerset many years before my coming there. He had been known especially for his skill with horses. He had possessed a secret cure for the healing of fistulous withers, and ailment even today considered as generally incurable. And himself being a bachelor man, and a solitary dweller, and dying suddenly, his secret was never told. Now, half a century later, I am curing with herbal medicine fistulous withers of horses, using mainly poruma and the skins of poovengris (potatoes). I am wondering if old Gypsy Pedlow could have conveyed his cure to me from the grave where lie his bones, for the herbal cure came to me, as many have done, by inspiration.

By March of 1941 I was working in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, employed in the forestry section of the Land Army. I had trained as a timber measurer, for which the pay was good. But when I found that that work was to keep me much imprisoned indoors in the sawmills, amongst shrieking machines and the slaughtered bodies of the trees, I refused to continue in such employment, and commenced instead as a labourer, land-clearing and tree-planting in the forest’s green heart. The forest was enchanted with birds, and peopled with woodland animals and flowers, and I worked in a dream-spell of beauty. “They are paying me for my own pleasure,” I declared often enough to myself, as I pressed the finger-tall infant larch trees into the dark loamy earth. Throughout the working hours in the forest there was an unceasing orchestra of birds, especially the sweet fluting of blackbirds and thrushes, and the merry bell-ringing of the tits. There was much music from the wood-larks, a bird new to me, and ever and ever the cuckoos called and were mocked by the sap-drunken laughter of the green woodpeckers. Close by the seedling beds where I planted, further enhancement was provided by deep stretches of woodruff flowers, that constant companion of the beech copses; woodruff growing more wondrously than I had ever before beheld. Like mantillas of white lace flung across the dark head of the earth. And that flower fragrance was for me what I imagined must be the scent of the unearthly meadows over which the spirits of the dead are said to travel when they have flown from the cates of the flesh.

Down the green ways o the Forest of Dean and the far stretching Wye Valley many Gypsies wandered. They were charcoal-burners, herb, acorn and berry gatherers, fern collectors and peg- and basket-makers. I had two encounters with Gypsies o the Forest which were especially memorable. Close by a place called Wet Wood, an old Gypsy man and wife, Benjamin and Nell Smith, hatched (To pull-in, to stay) their vardo (caravan), and I used to call on them and enjoy long talk. They never tired of hearing about their fellow Romanichals (Gypsy people) with whom I had tardered (gathered) berries and herbs in Sussex and Somerset. I saw them cook and eat the famed hotchiwitshi (hedgehog), which really is much used, and highly esteemed by the Gypsies, and is not merely a thought of the gawje (non-Gypsy) persons who write about Romany ways. Nell Smith knew much concerning herbs, and Benjamin was an authority on the wild creatures of the Forest. He was also a water-diviner, and for the first time I held the wonder of a hazel wand leaping and twisting in human hands on the finding of water. The Smiths were mindful of trading their vardo and taking to their former life of the tans (tents), and I came near to buying their robin-red van and the stocky grey mare which went with it. But when the time came for the Romanies to jal the drom (take to the road), they told me that they had wept together at the thought of parting with their loli vardo (red van). They said, further, that a thing wept over, being of ill-luck to the new owner, they would not trade the vardo therefor; but they hoped that I would accept a bottle of home-brewed elderberry wine as a mark of their goodwill, and as an offering for not having chopped tatcho (traded fairly) with me. Thus I came to learn Romany words, and the beginning of the superstitions and the nature of the Gypsy character. Also, I tasted my first drink of herbal wine, for I uncorked the bottle there in the dingle of the forest in company with the Gypsies, and the three of us drank the bottle dry. Well I remember that the force of the brew proved so powerful that I found my legs unable to carry me back to the Forestry Commission hostel where I was living, and I had to sleep off the effects beneath a hedge. That is a typical Gypsy way o recovering from drunkenness, to lie out beneath a hedge. Recovery that way is always speedy, whereas if confined indoors and deprived of air, the condition may leave its ill-effects for days.

My second encounter with Romanies in the Forest of Dean, was in a tavern, into which a forestry worker with whom I had been bark-stripping felled larches, invited me for a glass of the excellent barrel cyder, kept in most of the forest drinking-places.

The tavern was crowded with miners, for it was an evening hour, and that day in late April had been of bitter weather, blowing snow. Thankful we were to enter the warmth; a brazier of coke threw out a good heat and cast a crimson glow all around it. To make my pleasure the more perfect, I beheld in a corner of the room, two Gypsies. True to the fire-worshipping element of the Romany character, they were drawn close to the brazier. They were musicians; one held a bosh (fiddle), the other a mooikosht (pipe, flute). The flute-like pipe was a hand-made thing, of rough-cut elder or ash, I judged. The musicians had been silent when I entered the room; they thought me to be Romany for their gaze held mine across the crowded place, and they bowed their heads at me, and the younger man winked an eye-wild, and dark as a Forest pony, and then the two of them commenced the making of wonderful music. Oh, how that music cried and laughed about the place, the burn of the fire embers in it; and all the cold of the snow-wind blowing outside was driven well away. The spell of it all entered into the weary hearts of the gaunt-faced miners, and  they thumped upon the wooden floor in their great clumping boots, and the ale from the mugs went slopping over the bar counter and they on to the floor, in rivulets of brown ivory spume clinging.

I spoke with the musicians, both were Lovells, uncle and nephew, pure-blooded Romanies both. The old man was the boshomengro (fiddler), the younger the unskilled musician. The uncle was named Morrish, the nephew Jasper, both wore Gypsy style clothes. Patched and ragged garment, diklos (neck scarves) of red and of green knotted around their tawny throats, shapeless, brimless staadis (hats) of olive felt upon their heads of bushy hair, which showed in hanging locks black of hue as any Gypsy kettle, and growing down the sides of their lean brown faces, in the traditional Romany and tinker side-chops. Then to make the Gypsy appearance all the more wonderful in my admiring eyes, Jasper had a peacock feather poked through a rent in his hat crown. The feather glinted in the lamplight, and swayed as the Gypsy chal piped his crude, wild music.

The miners, I could sense, were not pleased to have a woman in their drinking place, putting a check on their often-enough ribald conversation, and spoiling their pleasure – for they are a conservative type of men. Therefor I left my forester friend and went to the musicians and sat on the bench alongside of them, in the red glow of the brazier which was a fair distance from the bar, and we talked in friendship together, and were isolated in a Gypsy world of our own.
I asked Jasper about his peacock feather, whence it had come, that iridescent thing of blue and green and lilac, with the golden eye upon it making it appear a bewitched object. He told that it had been his “feyther’s” – “An mi feyther’s feyther afore o’ that”. His voice possessed a Welsh lilt which made his talking seem as singing, very pleasant to hear. He held my eyes impudently with his dark, wild pony ones, and then declared that he would chop (swop) me his peacock feather for a kiss, for a real Romany chooma (kiss, embrace), outside in the dark of the night.
But I did not want to rob him of his heirloom plume, nor did I want his kisses, for his teeth were black as chips of charcoal, Unsightly stained teeth are too frequent amongst the English Gypsies. The Gypsies tell me that the only time that they possess a toothbrush is when accident or severe sickness compels them into a hospital, when they are made to brush their teeth. Lack of a toothbrush would not matter were it not for the constant tea-drinking habit of the modern English Gypsy, which produces a disfiguring accumulation of tannin stains.

I told Jasper that I was with a forester friend, and that therefore I could not accept his offer, and I showed to him the burly man who had brought me to the inn. Jasper said scornfully that I should not keep company with gawje men, and I told him that I was not keeping company, that we were only work friends. The uncle said that he believed that to be so, and that I must only marry with a true Romany rom (husband). I saw that the two musicians were convinced that I was a Gypsy, and often enough I think so myself. I think that there must have been a mingling with Gypsy blood on the Turkish side of my family, remembering that my very austere grandfather, an engineer and rich merchant, a friend of the Sultan Abdul Hamid, was also skilled in the Gypsy art of duckeripen (hand-reading), and my father’s fondness for horses, and my brother Nissim’s passion for horses and dogs, some part of which I share. Possibly the Gypsy blood had long lain dormant, and then has become dominant in me; for I find myself skilled in many of the Gypsy arts, especially dog and horse trading, herbal medicine and the collection of herbs, and -like my grandfather- fortune-telling. And the Gypsy people were beginning to attract me with the same irresistible force that the sea and the moon have for each other.

I changed the conversation back to the peacock feather and asked Jasper if he had ever seen in life the bird from which his feather had come. He replied that he had not seen it. I then described to him the gorgeous birds that used to parade on the green lawns of the boarding school in Wales where I had been a scholar for three years; how they had been as brilliantly garbed, and as temperamental, as toreadors.

We talked on in much friendliness, nearly for an hour, until the forester came to escort me home. Before I left Jasper danced some Gypsy step-dances and jigs for me, accompanied by the uncle Morrish’s fiddle music. That well pleased the miners, and their smiling faces as the Gypsy pranced upon the sawdust littered floor, showed that they had forgiven my coming to their place. For the miners appreciated that it was I who had gained for them the Gypsy dancing entertainment. Jasper danced in a form of trance, eyes held half-closed, and his body and flying feet seemingly as beyond his control as a leaf caught in a swirl of wind. Only many years later was I to see such trance dancing again performed by French and Spanish Gypsies at the Gypsy fiesta of Saintes Maries de la Mer, on the Camargue marshes, and further years later in the caves of the Sacro Monte mountain of Spain’s Granada. It was wonderful dancing in my eyes. and Jasper could have his kiss -many of them- as meagre reward. The miners too were appreciative, for they tossed a shower of coppers into the uncle’s hat, which he had place upturned on the floor for that purpose. The Gypsy spell was strong upon the night.

My work in the forest, always in the open air, was so weathering and tanning my face that I was becoming the traditional nut-brown Gypsy colour, and now entirely resembled a Gypsy. Often enough I heart “Gypsy! Gypsy!” whispered after me, when visiting the forest villages.

I already had the thick black hair and the semitic cast of features, with high cheek-bones and deep-set eyes. My eyes are not the Gypsy black, but are grey; so are many of the Turkish Gypsies, and blue eyes are quite often found amongst French and Spanish Romanies. I always worked barefoot, shoes being unhappy things for me, as they are for the majority of Romanies. It is nonsense to imprison one’s feet in shoes when the spring grass is cool and sweet with dew, and the forest floor is inches deep with pine needles, resilient and fragrant and tingling with life. The earth is good to tread barefoot. My clothes are often enough ragged – indeed sometimes so rent that people stayed their walking to stare curiously after me. But old Nanny was no longer near me to do my mending; and Gypsy-true I never have been able to use a needle properly nor eager to spare the time.

In the Forest I liked best to work alone, for in those days I was full of thoughts and working with my hands, in quiet places of the trees, gave me opportunity to sort out the crowding thoughts. I still loved the forestry work, every hour of it, though I reproached myself often enough that it was too good an occupation when the horror of war surged all around me, and young woodmen went from the forest and came not back again. But there was little other war work that I could have done, for I rigidly refused to be associated with any part of the actual waging of war and the killing of anything, man or animal. By that time I had been a vegetarian for many years, eating mostly raw vegetable foods and milk products. During my forestry days I was obsessed with the thought of the concentration camps, where the Gypsies were being exterminated along with the Jews. The unjust imprisoning and killing of anything had always tormented me; it had occasioned my hatred and intolerance of vivisection, and was the chief inspiration for my herbal veterinary work. In the concentration camps vivisection was being practiced upon the Jews and the Gypsies, including women and children. Often I felt that the world had become too horrible a place in which to live. When I thought thus, the lovely scents of the loamy earth rose up to fill my nostrils, and all the green wonder of the forest crowded into my eyes…”Life is very sweet, brother”.

When I wanted forgetfulness I would seek out the Gypsies. There were usually wandering bands of them to be found camping in the quiet glades of the forest. My dear brown people! I had already found in my Sussex days, that they are the best people with whom to talk when in deep trouble or sorrow. They will sort out most of one’s problems for the offering of a packet of tea or a little tobacco, even including the complicated one of love. The Gypsies are natural philosophers and often enough profound thinkers. Many of them possess deep clairvoyant powers, those special gifts concerning which Matthew Arnold’s Scholar Gypsy had spoken.

Those spring months of 1941 were radiantly beautiful in the forest, and in May, at the time when the horror of Greece and Crete was being enacted, the forest was at its fairest. Incredibly fragrant sapphire floods of the wild hyacinths surged around the glowing limbs of the trees, and the thorn bushes made white and red blossoms tents of further exquisite scent. Nightingales sang by day as well as by night. I was made drunken with beauty. I used to roll amongst the hyacinths like a colt. The sun had put such power into my limbs that I possessed far more energy than the forestry work could absorb, and therefore when work was ended I went for long tramps through the flowering world, finding stretches of deep river for swimming, visiting all the border towns, and ever seeking out the Gypsies. Then came news which cured in a minute all of my beauty-drunken state: my brother Nissim, the one fellow Gypsy of my family, had been slain at Crete. The world never again could look so fair for me. The radiance of the forest made my bitterness all the greater: I existed in a madness of despair and rage and grief. I think that I would have diet of my sadness if I had not had the Gypsies with whom to talk.

I left my forestry tasks and spent my days in the forest; the trees made good weeping posts. When my agony became unendurable I would go running to the Gypsies. Their philosophy concerning death was wise and comforting for me. The Gypsies are not a suicidal race as are the Jews. There is suicide in my own family. Never yet have I heard of a Gypsy committing suicide. Their attitude to death is a calm acceptance. They say simply: “We all must die. Our own turn will come for sure, and we may die more painfully than the one we mourn; there is no knowing. Have pity for our own selves, for the good duvel (God) alone knows what hour we will be sent to hev (Heaven), and dordi dordi (dear me, dear me) what trouble and pains we may have to bear before our own days be ended. Give thanks to the good duvel that we be alive this day and free to breathe the sweet air and hear the brown bird in the tree.”

Alive and free-free, that was the golden heart of the Gypsy rose of Philosophy. The Gypsy way of life always brought to mind for me the verse from the Carnival Song of Lorenzo de Medici:

 

Beauteous is life in blossom!

And it Fleeteth-fleeteth ever;

Whoso would be joyful-let him!

There’s no surety for the morrow.

 

Even so I brooded day and night over the loss of Nissim; the slim, freckled youth, so wonderously skilled with horses and dogs. Work in the forest became impossible for me, for I no longer wanted the abundant time for thought and grieving that such employment gave to me. I asked permission to leave the forestry employment I did not return for three years to the land work that I loved.

During those intervening years came the death of Effraim Nahum; a companion of my childhood, and my most loyal friend. He was the first person to whom I showed any of my early writings, so highly did I value his intelligence: he prophesied that “in time” they would achieve print. Similar to Nissim, he was the laughter in my life. Possessing a passion for freedom and adventure, Effraim became a bohemian traveler at a far earlier age than I. His popularity at Cambridge University was such, that when he died, the Socialist party published a booklet in memory of him.

My next Meeting with the Gypsies was in 1946, in the New Forest. Work on a veterinary herbal book had caused me to seek again the quiet of an unspoilt forest. But when the long summer days came, I, as always, fretted to be away at tasks in the fields: fruit-gathering or haymaking. I refused to let my book steal my whole day and most of the night from me, and managed to get myself accepted as a part-time picker in the strawberry fields near Lymington.