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The Pocket George Borrow

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It is very possible that the reader during his country walks or rides has observed, on coming to four cross-roads, two or three handfuls of grass lying at a small distance from each other down one of these roads; perhaps he may have supposed that this grass was recently plucked from the roadside by frolicsome children, and flung upon the ground in sport, and this may possibly have been the case; it is ten chances to one, however, that no children’s hands plucked them, but that they were strewed in this manner by Gypsies, for the purpose of informing any of their companions, who might be straggling behind, the route which they had taken; this is one form of the patteran or trail.  It is likely, too, that the gorgio reader may have seen a cross drawn at the entrance of a road, the long part or stem of it pointing down that particular road, and he may have thought nothing of it, or have supposed that some sauntering individual like himself had made the mark with his stick: not so, courteous gorgio; ley tiro solloholomus opré lesti, you may take your oath upon it that it was drawn by a Gypsy finger, for that mark is another of the Rommany trails; there is no mistake in this.  Once in the south of France, when I was weary, hungry, and penniless, I observed one of these last patterans, and following the direction pointed out, arrived at the resting-place of ‘certain Bohemians,’ by whom I was received with kindness and hospitality, on the faith of no other word of recommendation than patteran.  There is also another kind of patteran, which is more particularly adapted for the night; it is a cleft stick stuck at the side of the road, close by the hedge, with a little arm in the cleft pointing down the road which the band have taken, in the manner of a signpost; any stragglers who may arrive at night where cross-roads occur search for this patteran on the left-hand side, and speedily rejoin their companions.

By following these patterans, or trails, the first Gypsies on their way to Europe never lost each other, though wandering amidst horrid wildernesses and dreary denies.  Rommany matters have always had a peculiar interest for me; nothing, however, connected with Gypsy life ever more captivated my imagination than this patteran system: many thanks to the Gypsies for it; it has more than once been of service to me.

* * * * *

‘Are you of the least use?  Are you not spoken ill of by everybody?  What’s a gypsy?’

‘What’s the bird noising yonder, brother?’

‘The bird! oh, that’s the cuckoo tolling; but what has the cuckoo to do with the matter?’

‘We’ll see, brother; what’s the cuckoo?’

‘What is it? you know as much about it as myself, Jasper.’

‘Isn’t it a kind of roguish, chaffing bird, brother?’

‘I believe it is, Jasper.’

‘Nobody knows whence it comes, brother?’

‘I believe not, Jasper.’

‘Very poor, brother, not a nest of its own?’

‘So they say, Jasper.’

‘With every person’s bad word, brother?’

‘Yes, Jasper; every person is mocking it.’

‘Tolerably merry, brother?’

‘Yes, tolerably merry, Jasper.’

‘Of no use at all, brother?’

‘None whatever, Jasper.’

‘You would be glad to get rid of the cuckoos, brother?’

‘Why, not exactly, Jasper; the cuckoo is a pleasant, funny bird, and its presence and voice give a great charm to the green trees and fields; no, I can’t say I wish exactly to get rid of the cuckoo.’

‘Well, brother, what’s a Rommany chal?’

‘You must answer that question yourself, Jasper.’

‘A roguish, chaffing, fellow; ain’t he, brother?’

‘Ay, ay, Jasper.’

‘Of no use at all, brother?’

‘Just so, Jasper; I see—’

‘Something very much like a cuckoo, brother?’

‘I see what you are after, Jasper.’

‘You would like to get rid of us, wouldn’t you?’

‘Why, no; not exactly.’

‘We are no ornament to the green lanes in spring and summer time; are we, brother?...