Having approached Epsom, Levi then turned back down the Dorking road and then went onwards towards Bookham. Finally he drove down Young Street and made approach to the river camp that way. Joe descended from the cart when it halted by the verge of the fields. Then, calling back to me that he would see me later by Emily’s vardo, he hurried away towards the rier in strange manner. However, for me, the ride had not ended there, the wildest stretch of the whole journey had yet to come. A second Gypsy left the cart and pulled down the barbed-wire fencing alongside the field facing the cart. Levi then once more cracked his whip, turned the horse’s head towards the river, and put the animal into a gallop over the rough, plough-rutted field. Then indeed did I have to seek the aid of the fair man.
I thought for sure that the cart would overturn on the plough-ridges, and often enough we progressed on but one wheel. Midway across the fields we hit a great stone and that came near to wrecking immediately the trolli (cart). The seven Gypsies riding on the cart shouted and cheered, and again Levi cracked his whip and gave then, in far-crying voice, the familiar call of the greisto-fairus: “Hi! Hi! Hi!” At the yelling of his voice and the explosions of the riding whip, a flock of crows, feeding amongst the wheat stubble, flighted in panic and came winging over the cart, beating the pearly air with their fringed jet wings. And then we were safely at the encampment.
At the halting the black horse was agleam with sweat, and the froth of his saliva was thick about the bit and lying like river-foam across his face and down his neck and even upon his sides where it had been blown by the speed-wind.
“A tatcho gry,” Levi said to me.
“Aye,” I replied.
Emily and Rachel were awaiting me by the riverside, and Joe was close by splitting pegs. He was splitting the cut sticks before their banding with the tin, a task which requires much deftness in order to prevent the cracking-open of the whole peg.
I gave to the sisters the clothes bundle that Florence had sent and my own dino of groceries and fruit, but they stayed not to look at them; they instead dragged me down on to the grass alongside them, telling me that they had something of importance to ask of me.
“Ask on miri kushti pens,” I replied
“Shoonta ke lokki (harken to her)!” exclaimed the sisters, and they embraced me.
The chief talker in the conversation that followed was Emily; though Rachel must have rehearsed previously, for she was able to follow well, and often joined Emily in words of agreement. Emily first took my hand into hers – and it was a union of two sun-brown, earth-roughened, chipped-nailed hands, for mine was the counterpart of the Gypsy’s, I doing much field work also.
“Tis this a-way,” Emily commenced in her low-pitched, vibrant voice. “Our Joe’s felled in love wi’ you, an’ is wantin’ to be wed wi’ you.”
I did not speak; and she continued: “Ever since you a-first cem to we, ‘e’s done nothin’ but sit at ‘ome ‘ere an’ talk o’ you. It ‘as been Julie, Julie, Julie, an’ nothin’ else. We loves you too, Rachel an’ me. If only you’d have Joe you could travel wi’ us allaways. You could bring ‘ere that gry o’ yourn, and Joe’d del (provide) a kushto vardo, and we could all travel the counties kateni (together), an’ you could ‘awk the fidas along o’ us. Oh, Julie, you tell ‘im avali (yes). Tell Joe avali.”
I turned towards Joe, His pegging knife went ‘slish-slash through the hazel lengths, and little amber flakes of wood gyrated to the ground. The Gypsy’s head was bent low and the black wings of his wonderful hair lay upon his yellow dicklo. I wished that I could have told Joe avali. To become Joe’s wife would have been easy escape for me from the net of life’s problems which had entangled me ever since I was a child. Away with Joe, travelling the country roads, there would be escape from further knowledge and thought of all the cruelties and injustices which blighted my life; the hanging of human beings, vivisection of animals, and the horror of slaughter-houses, the tyranny of the big-business magnates – especially the manufacturing chemists who adulterate and poison the world’s foods under the guise of improvement and hygiene and accumulate fortunes thereby; all of which I had vowed to fight. The travelling life would take me away from news of all such things, for Gypsies read not newspapers and they stand apart from politics. I would further end immediately the thraldom of my typewriter, a machine I never could tolerate, and would no longer have to keep company with a case-load of reference books. Away over the hills with Joe, and no work more arduous than the making of the little golden pegs, the keeping of one vardo, and the pleasurable bearing of Gypsy children. Such were they happy thoughts that passed through my mind. Like the golden and red leaves of the autumn trees, the pleasure thoughts whirled around me – and then swept by. The wind of life took them away and would not let them stay with me: because for the present I knew surely that there was no possibility of fulfillment. For certain there awaited me three more years of work before I could escape into Gypsy life, if I were not to suffer the long pains of a guilty conscience, resultant from labour uncompleted and thus worthless. Furthermore, on the morrow there was the commencement of my journey to Mexico, a visit which I foreknew would be of the utmost importance to my past and present work. Then finally I was aware that the Gypsy life in England was not a very good thing. The land was too crowded with houses and people, and there were too many petty laws and restrictions curtailing the freedom which is the true wine of Gypsy life. The wind on the heath no longer blew where it listed, and too often it smelt of factory fumes. Then, furthermore, I wanted to drink my wine of life in the sunlight and there was insufficient sun for me in the English skies. And above all I did not love Joe. He had been a most pleasant companion to me in the time that I had known him, and I would not forget him, but this was not the Gypsy fire of love which I knew was to be found on earth if one sought it, far and long enough. Yet nevertheless I felt sick at heart when the time came for me to say -”naw” instead of “avali” to the strange proposal. I had a powerful affection for the three Gypsies siting near me amongst the poppy swathes, their dark keen eyes concentrated upon my face.
I felt surely that never in my life would there come to me a sweeter proposal of marriage – than there by the River Mole in the company of the beautiful Gypsy women and the kindly Joe. The wind rustling through the poppies and the dying autumn grasses, the willows making their sighing music and the river prattling as it went onwards over its stony bed fringed with the shining lissom reeds; and Joe’s pegging knife too making its own endearing music. All was beguiling.
My eyes lowered in sadness and I could no longer meet the ardent gaze of the Gypsies. Rachel, keener of feeling and sight than Emily, as is often the way of the deaf, sensed that I was to reply unfavourably to Joe, and she wrung her thin brown hands dramatically, and cried shrilly to Emily Joe. “O she’s not agoin’ to stay wi’ us, oh dordi! (dear me) dordi!”
I then left Emily and Rachel and went to Joe’s side, and knelt amongst the litter of peg-chips, and thanked him for wanting me for his wife. I tried to explain to him why I had to leave England for Mexico. Joe continued with his pegging work, his knife slashing and he spoiling many pegs. His eyes revealed nothing to me of what he was thinking; so dark and mysterious they looked in his swart face. And close by him I was enamoured of his wonderful hair, the jet silk of it contrasting with the chrome of his neck-scarf.
Joe then told me. “If you loved me proper you’d atch (stay, camp) along o’ we, an’ not be away to Mexicy.”
I defended. “It’s not only for myself that I go, my work is for others.”
“Peg-makin’ an’ ‘awkin’ be sufficient work fer any rackli (girl),” Joe said firmly.
“Avali,” Emily and Rachel supported him.
I shook my head. “Later,” I said. “Good work for me later, but I’ve tasks to finish now in Mexicy an’ elsewhere.”
Joe put down his pegging knife and his eyes held mine. “I love you,” he exclaimed. “I would wed wi’ you. You’d best ‘atch along o’ we.”
Mean I felt, and worthless, when I could but say “I’ll be back in England soon enough, half a year in Mexico, no longer. I’ll never forget you, Joe, nor Emily and Rachel. I’ve been very happy with you all.”
“Look, Joe, ‘ow sad ‘er eyes be,” said Rachel. “Tatcho sad.” She was trying to take my part and also sooth her brothers feelings.
“Tatcho sad! Tatcho gry!” I thought, recalling my ride with Levi. How strange and how sweet a day it had been. I then said to the Gypsies, “I am very sad to leave you.” And they knew that I spoke in truth.
Soon after we were joined by a great company of Gypsies, Levi and Ephram, with all the men who had ridden with me on the cart, and many more. Most of the black sons of Selina Lee were there: strange and exciting company it was. The others had not the grave manner of Joe, they were laughing and flirting around me, so that for me it became like Appleby horse-fair again. There was an atmosphere of high revelry. Groups were step-dancing to music of the accordion; others sat upon the ground, playing cards or dice, all favourite pastimes of Gypsy men.
When dusk came I had to leave the camp, and I said my farewell to Joe and Emily and Rachel, and to Levi and Ephram also. Joe walked after me and put into my hand a clothes-peg.
“Keep this ‘ere fida,” he said, “an’ sometimes tek it in yer ‘and an’ think on poor Joe.”
“Parik tuti (thank you),” I replied. “This be a lucky peg I’m sure. I’ll keep your peg fer ever, Joe, that I swear. An kushto bokt (good luck) to you, my sweet friend, kushto bokt.”
“Kushto bokt,” he made answer.
Joe’s clothes-peg will stay with me always. I have had to write his name upon it, for in the many years since my parting with Joe I have had a score of clothes-pegs from Gypsies, given to me in friendship and love.