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[-396-]

CHAPTER CXXXII.
    
AN OLD FRIEND

    LET US now return to the Rattlesnake, whom we left in the act of flying from the pursuit which she knew [-397-] would be undertaken in respect to her by the Resurrection Man.
    Having bade farewell to Mrs. Chichester at Cambridge Heath, Margaret Flathers, with her well-filled bag under her arm, hastened along the road leading to Hackney.
    She cared not which direction she pursued, provided she placed a considerable distance between herself and London; for so terrible was the dread under which she laboured from her knowledge of the desperate character and profound cunning of the Resurrection Man, that she conceived it to be impossible for her to be safe so long as she was within even a wide circuit of the great metropolis.
    Having passed through Hackney, she speedily left the main road, and struck at random across the fields, careful only to pursue a course which she felt convinced must remove her further and further from London.
    Unweariedly for two long hours did she hurry on her way, until she fell, overcome with weariness, beneath a large tree, whose gigantic leafless boughs creaked ominously in the darkness over her head.
    The night was fearfully cold  the grass was damp  and the wind moaned gloomily through the trees.
    The Rattlesnake was hungry and thirsty; but she had not food nor drink to satisfy the cravings of nature. In that solitude,  without a light gleaming through the obscurity as a beacon of hospitality,  she felt that her gold was then and there no better to her than the cold soil upon which she rested her weary limbs.
    At length, worn out by fatigue and want, she fell asleep.
    When she awoke the sun was shining.
    But where was she?
    Close at hand burnt a blazing fire, fed with wood and turf, and sending up a dense smoke into the fine frosty air. To an iron rod, fastened horizontally to two upright stakes, was suspended a huge caldron, the bubbling of which reached her ears, and the savour of whose contents was wafted most agreeably to her nostrils.
    Grouped around the fire, and anxiously watching the culinary process, were two women, four men, and a boy.
    Two of the men were not characterised by that swarthy complexion and those black elf-lacks which distinguished their two male companions, the women, and the boy.
    Of the two men thus especially alluded to, as not being of the gipsy race, to which their companions evidently belonged,  the first was about forty years of age and possessed a herculean form. His countenance was weather-beaten and indicated the endurance of great hardship: indeed, he had been abroad to far-off climes, and had gone through privations of an almost incredible nature. He was, however, taciturn and reserved, and ever seemed brooding upon some secret grief or absorbing sentiment of a darker nature: nevertheless, the little he had chosen to tell his present companions relative to his former history had obtained for him the name of the Traveller; and by no other appellation was he known amongst them.
    The other man, whose complexion proclaimed him not to be of the Egyptian race, was apparently verging towards thirty; and, although slight, he was well-built and uncommonly active. His name will transpire presently.
    The elder of the two male gipsies was a man of nearly eighty years of age. His hair was as white as driven snow; and his bald head was protected from the cold wind by only a thin faded green silk skull-cap. His beard, as white as his hair, hung down over his breast, and formed a strange contrast with his swarthy countenance and piercing black eyes, the fires of which were not dimmed with age. This individual was the King of the Gipsies, and rejoiced in the assumed name of Zingary.
    The other male gipsy was the King's son, and was a fine tall handsome fellow of about thirty-five, dark as a Spaniard, and with fine Roman features.
    The two women were also very discrepant in respect to age: one was nearly sixty, and was the Queen of thc Gipsies, her assumed name being Macha: the other was a pretty brunette, with fine laughing eyes and brilliant teeth, and was the wife of Morcar, the King's son. Her name was Eva; and she was the mother of the boy before alluded to, and who was between eight and nine years old.
    We have thought it as well to state all these particulars at once in order to avoid confusion; although the Rattlesnake was not immediately aware of them.
    When the Rattlesnake awoke up and surveyed this strange groupe, she instinctively felt for her bag of gold; and a scream of dismay escaped her lips when she perceived that it was gone.
    A loud burst of laughter emanated from the gipsies,  for by this general name we shall denominate the band, although two members of it were not or the race;  and the fair-complexioned man, whose name we have not yet stated, exclaimed, "Don't alarm yourself, my dear young woman: we have banked the rag* [*Secured the  money] for fear that a buzman* [*Informer - spy] should have nabbed you with it in your possession. But you shall have your reg'lars out of it, mind, whenever you want to pursue your way. Only, as you've happened to trespass upon the dominions of his high mightiness King Zingary, you must pay toll."
    While this individual was speaking, the Rattlesnake, who had first been struck by the tone of his voice, considered him with great attention, and seemed to forget the loss she had sustained in the interest with which she contemplated the person addressing her.
    At length, when he had ceased to speak, she started from the ground, advanced towards him, and exclaimed in an excited tone, "Have not you and I met before?"
    "Not unlikely, my dear," was the reply. "Perhaps under the screw* [*In prison]   or in the Holy Land* [*St. Giles],  which I visit from time to time  or else in the bottom of a coal-hell* [*Coal-mine]  in the county of Stafford."
    "It is! it is!" ejaculated the Rattlesnake, ready to spring towards him, and throw her arms around his neck. "Don't you remember me now?"
    "Remember you?" repeated the man slowly, and he gazed upon the Rattlesnake's countenance for some moments;  then, as if a sudden light dawned in upon him, he started from the ground in his turn, crying, "May I never drink rum slim* [*Rum-punch] again if it isn't my old flame, Meg Flathers!"
    And they flew into each other's arms.
    "Your Majesty," said Skilligalee,  for this was the individual whose name we for a moment suppressed, "Your Majesty," he exclaimed, when this embrace was over, "allow me to present to you my wife, the lovely and accomplished Margaret Flathers."
    "She is welcome," said Zingary gravely. "Young woman, sit down and be welcome. We ask no questions whether you are our comrade's splice* [*Wife] or [-398-] not: it is enough for us that he acknowledges you as such. Aischa  welceme a daughter; Eva  greet a sister."
    The old and the young gipsy women advanced towards the Rattlesnake and took each a hand.
    "I welcome you, daughter," said Aischa.
    "I greet you, sister," said Eva.
    They then each kissed her forehead, and resumed their seats close by the fire.
    "And I greet you too, my gal," exclaimed Morcar, thrusting out his large muscular hand, and giving that of the Rattlesnake a friendly squeeze.
    "And now sit down," said the King, "and moisten your chaffer* [*Take something to drink]."
    "Ah! do," cried Morcar; "for you must want it after sleeping underneath that tree on the top of the hill, exposed to the cold wind and damp."
    This observation led the Rattlesnake to cast a glance around her; and she found that the gipsy camp was at the bottom of a deep valley, on the brow of which stood the tree to which the King's son pointed, and beneath which she had sunk exhiausted on the preceding night.
    Meantime Skilligalee had visited a covered van, which stood at a little distance, and near which an old horse was quietly munching the contents of a capacious nose-bag; and, in a few moments he returned, bearing with him a large stone bottle that might have held two gallon~ of liquor.
    From his pocket he produced a small horn-cup; and, pouring forth a bumper of rum, he handed it to the queen.
    "No  there first," laconically said Aischa, pointing towards the Rattlesnake, who was accordingly compelled to drain the horn before her majesty.
    "Good  isn't it? " asked Skilligalee, with a siy wink.
    "I felt very cold  and it has revived me," replied the Rattlesnake.
    "And the contents of that pot will put you right altogether," said Skilligalee, pointing to the caldron that was simmering over the fire. "Beg pardon, majesty," he added, turning towards the queen, and pouring forth another dram.
    Macha drank the contents of the horn.cup without winking; and Skilligalee proceeded to do the honours of the bottle to the rest of the company.
    Having served the king, Eva, and Morcar, he approached the Traveller, who had sat a silent spectator of all that passed.
    "Now, friend, your turn is come."
    "Thank you," said the man, drily; and having tossed off the 1iquor, he muttered, grinding his teeth savagely, "And some one else's turn must come too, sooner or later."
    "Always brooding upon the same thing," exclaimed the laughing, light-hearted Skilligalee.
    "And if you had been served by a villain as I was," returned the Traveller, brutally, "you would long for the time to come to settle up accounts with him. Thank my Stars! we shall be in London tomorrow, and then  then  "
    The remainder of the man's words were lost in mutterings, which, to judge by the terrific workings of his countenance, the violence with which he ground his teeth, and the convulsive rage indicated by the manner in which he clenched his fist, must have been a direful portent.
    But a few words which he had uttered, struck sudden dismay to the heart of the Rattlesnake.
    "Are you going to London?" she whispered, in a tone of alarm, to Skilligalee, who had now resumed his seat by her side.
    "Ah I indeed are we, my dear," was the reply. "The royal palace in the Holy Land is prepared for our reception; and this night at nine o'clock does his majesty make his triumphant entry, disguised as a timber-merchant* [*Beggar with matches], into that part of his dominions."
    "To London!" gasped the Rattlesnake. "Then  then  I cannot accompany you  I    "
    "What have you to fear?" demanded Skilligalee. "Have you not me to defend you individually, and his majesty's protection to shield you generally?"
    "No  no," returned Margaret Flathers; "I cannot  will not return to London. I hate the place  I detest it  I abhor it! I am not even now as far from it as I could wish  not half."
    "Far from it?" ejaculated Skilligalee, with a merry laugh. "Why, you can almost hear the sounds of the cabs and hackney-coaches where we are now."
    "What!" cried Margaret. "How far are we from London? tell me  speak!"
    "When you are on the top of that place where I found you sleeping early this morning," answered Skilligalee, "you can see Hornsey Wood on the next hill  about two miles off."
    "My God! then in spite of all my care last. night, I must have gone a strange round," said Margaret, speaking rather to herself than to her companion.
    "Ah! I see how it is, Meg," observed Skilligalee; "you are in trouble about that gold. Well  never mind, old gal  so much the more reason for me to protect you. Now I tell you what it is: not all the buzmen in London can find you out at our crib in the Holy Land; and so you shall come along with us, and you shall keep in doors the whole time: we'll take care of you. What do you think of that?"
    "Skilligalee," whispered Margaret, "I am not afraid of the police: they don't trouble themselves about me. But there is a certain man that seeks my life  "
    "Oh! if that's all," interrupted her companion, "make yourself perfectly easy. You don't know yet what defences and fortifications the king has got to his palace: a regiment of swaddies* [*soldiers] would never storm it, or take it by surprise."
    "And you really think that I shall be safe?" asked the Rattlesnake, hesitating; for these assurances of protection began to please her more than the idea of being compelled to wander alone about the country.
    "Think!" cried Skilligalee, "I don't think  I'm certain, Trust to me  and all will be right. Besides, do you not pay toll to his majesty? and where can you find a more powerful protector than King Zingary? You will see what he can do, when once we arrive at the palace in the Holy Land."
    "But  but  will he keep all my gold?" asked the Rattlesnake, hesitatingly.
    "Not all, my dear," answered Skilligalee. "One third goes to the Box* [*Treasury]; another third to be divided amongst all us here who picked you up; and the other remains at your own disposal. Are you content?"
    "Quite," said the Rattlesnake, knowing full well that it was no use to remonstrate, and not un-[-399-]willing, moreover, to pay handsomely for the protection promised to her.
    While this conversation took place between the Rattlesnake and Skilligalee, the two women had prepared the repast. The king had in the meantime amused himself with what, in his own lingo, he termed "cocking a broseley;"* [*Smoking a pipe] the boy fetched the platters, knives, forks, spoons, and other articles necessary for the meal, from the van;  Morcar went to look after the horse;  and the Traveller was buried in a profound reverie. Thus the discourse of Margaret Flathers and her companion was as private and unrestrained as if no one had been by.
    And now the immediate vicinity of the fire presented an animated and even comfortable appearance. Upon a huge earthenware dish was piled a stew, which sent forth a most inviting odour. A goose, a sucking-pig, three fowls, a couple of rabbits, and an immense quantity of vegetables, greeted the eye and pleased the olfactory nerve; and a couple of jolly brown quartern loaves flanked the feast. Every guest was furnished with a horn snicker* [*Drinking mug] : salt, pepper, and mustard were also provided, to give a zest to the food. Then Skilligalee paid another visit to the van,  for he, it appears, was butler in ordinary to his Majesty King Zingary,  and returned laden with a second enormous bottle, filled to the hung with the very best malt liquor that ever aided to immortalize Barclay and Perkins.
    "All is ready," said Eva, in a respectful manner to her father-in-law, the King.
    Zingary stroked down his beard in a majestic manner, murmured a grace in a language totally incomprehensible to the Rattlesnake, and then helped himself to a portion of the mess.
    This was the signal for the attack; and Margaret Flathers was by no means sorry to receive upon her platter, from the gallant and attentive Skilligalee, a good proportion of the savoury comestibles.
    The Traveller did his duty in respect to the repast; but he seldom joined in the gay discourse which seasoned it, apparently brooding over the one absorbing idea of vengeance, which now seemed to constitute the only object for which that man lived.
    Margaret Flathers could hot help noticing the great respect which all present paid to the King and Queen of the Gipsies. Their majesties joined familiarly in the conversation; and it was evident from their remarks, especially those of Zingary, that they had travelled over every inch of Great Britain, not a crevice or corner of which was unknown to them. Margaret also gathered from their discourse that they had visited foreign countries in their youth; and Zingary boasted more than once of the intimate terms upon which he stood with the sovereigns of the Gipsies of Spain and Bohemia.
    Morcar listened to his father with deep attention and marked respect; and expressed, with deference, his own opinions upon the various topics of discourse. Eva spoke little, but she was an interested listener; and from time to time she bestowed a caress upon her boy, or exchanged a glance or a smile of affection with her husband.
    In a word, the members of the royal family of the gipsies appeared to exist upon the most comfortable terms with each other.
    When the meal was over, Skilligalee beckoned Margaret Flathers aside, and said, "We will go and seat ourselves under the brow of yonder hill, and pass an hour in conversation. I have much to tell you, and you must have something to tell me."
    "I have  I have indeed! " exclaimed Margaret as she accompanied Skilligalee to the spot indicated where they seated themselves on some large blocks of wood that lay there half buried in the soil.
    "I have often read and heard of the King of the Gipsies," said Margaret; "but I always imagine. that he was a fabulous character. Is that old man yonder really the King; or has he only assumed the distinction by way of amusement?"
    "He is as much the sovereign of the gipsies, Margaret," answered Skilligalee, with unusual solemnity, "as Victoria is the Queen of England; and more so, for the whole tribe pays him a blind and implicit obedience."
    "How came the king and his family with such strange names as those by which I heard them call each other? " inquired the Rattlesnake.
    "The Gipsies in England are of two distinct races, although united under one ruler," replied Skillgalee. "They are Egyptian and Bohemian, and the royal family always adopts names likely to please both parties: Zingary and Aischa are, amongst the gipsies, supposed to be Egyptian names; Morcar and Eva are held as Bohemian. The parents who have Egyptian names, give Bohemian ones to their children; so that the rulers of the tribe are alternately looked upon as Egyptian and Bohemian."
    "Then Morcar and Eva will be king and queen at the death of Zingary?" said the Rattlesnake.
    "Just so," replied Skilligalee.
    "Now tell me, who is that moody, melancholy, scowling fellow that you call the Traveller?" continued Margaret.
    "We know but little of him," was the answer. "He joined us  or rather, we picked him up in a state of starvation, a few miles from Liverpool, about six weeks or two months ago; and the king has allowed him to tramp with us, because he is without friends or money. Moreover, he was anxious to get to London; and, for some reason or other, he is afraid to be seen on the high-roads, or in the towns and villages. So our wandering life just suited his convenience; and he feels himself safe in our company. He seldom speaks about his own affairs; but he has said enough to enable us to understand that he has suffered deeply in consequence of the treachery of some person in whom he had put confidence, or who was his pal in former times; and he is going up to London with the hope of finding out his enemy. He seems a desperate fellow; and I should not like to be the person that has offended him."
    "He is not a gipsy?" said Margaret, interrogatively.
    "No  not a whit more than myself," answered Skilligalee; "and I dare say he will leave us in London. As he was with us when we banked your rag, he will have his reg'lars, and that will set him up."
    "And you have no idea what he has been, or who he is?" inquired the Rattlesnake.
    "We never ask questions, Meg; we listen to all that is told us, but we never seek to pry into secrets. The king was quite contented with seeing your well filled bag; but if you remained in his company for a hundred years from this time, he would never ask you how you came by it. All impertinent curiosity is against the laws of the Zingarees."
    "Zingarees! who are they?" exclaimed the Rattlesnake.
    "The Gipsies  with another name  that's all, Meg," replied Skilligalee. "But I was telling you about the man that we call the Traveller. When his heart has been the least thing warmed with [-400-] sluicing his bolt* [*Drinking]  and cocking his broseley, he has told us strange stories of foreign countries, so that even old Zingary, who has travelled a good deal, has turned up the whites of his eyes. But there is no doubt that the sulky stranger has seen much, and gone through much also. He talks of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, and Australia, and heaven only knows what distant places, almost as well as you and I should about the coal-hells in Staffordshire."
    "And does he mean to kill the man that has offended him?" demanded the Rattlesnake.
    "I'll warrant he does," was the answer; "for all that he possessed in the world, when we picked him up nearly frozen to death in a pit where he had crept for shelter,  all that he possessed besides his rags, was a long dagger, which he calls a poniard: it is as bright as silver, and so flexible that you can bend it double without breaking it. So determined is he to bury it some half dozen inches in his enemy's heart, that he wouldn't even sell it, it appears, when famishing for a morsel of bread."
    "He seems a desperate-looking fellow," observed the Rattlesnake. "I never heard of so terrible a man  except one; and hell doesn't contain a greater demon than him. But I will tell you all about that another time: you must answer me my questions first."
    "Oh! of course," exclaimed Skilligalee, with a merry laugh; "because you are the lady, and I am the gentleman. What else do you want to know?"
    "Why the king is going up to London?"
    "He always does at this season of the year, to meet the chiefs of the different districts, and settle a good deal of business. But you will see all about it when once we get up into the Holy Land  that is, if you've made up your mind to go with us."
    "I have," answered the Rattlesnake. "And now tell me all that has happened to you since we parted in that hurried manner  you know how."
    "Well  I will," cried Skilligalee: "so listen attentively, as all story-tellers say."
    Then, clearing his throat with a loud hem, he commenced his narrative in the following manner.

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