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.

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