chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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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
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
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
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*
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
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
"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]
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
"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
"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
"How came the king and his family with such strange
names as those by which I heard them call each other? " inquired the
"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,
"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
"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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