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Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 22866

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"I wish you wouldn't speak the calo jib to me, Chaldea," said Lambert, smiling on the beautiful eager face. "You know I don't understand it."

"Nor I," put in Miss Greeby in her manly tones. "What does Oh baro devil, and all the rest of it mean?"

"The Great God be with you," translated Chaldea swiftly, "and duvel is not devil as you Gorgios call it."

"Only the difference of a letter," replied the Gentile lady good-humoredly. "Show us round your camp, my good girl."

The mere fact that the speaker was in Lambert's company, let alone the offensively patronizing tone in which she spoke, was enough to rouse the gypsy girl's naturally hot temper. She retreated and swayed like a cat making ready to spring, while her black eyes snapped fire in a most unpleasant manner.

But Miss Greeby was not to be frightened by withering glances, and merely laughed aloud, showing her white teeth. Her rough merriment and masculine looks showed Chaldea that, as a rival, she was not to be feared, so the angry expression on the dark face changed to a wheedling smile.

"Avali! Avali! The Gorgios lady wants her fortune told."

For the sake of diplomacy Miss Greeby nodded and fished in her pocket. "I'll give you half a crown to tell it."

"Not me-not me, dear lady. Mother Cockleshell is our great witch."

"Take me to her then," replied the other, and rapidly gathered into her brain all she could of Chaldea's appearance.

Lambert had painted a very true picture of the girl, although to a certain extent he had idealized her reckless beauty. Chaldea's looks had been damaged and roughened by wind and rain, by long tramps, and by glaring sunshine. Yet she was superlatively handsome with her warm and swarthy skin, under which the scarlet blood circled freely. To an oval face, a slightly hooked nose and two vermilion lips, rather full, she added the glossy black eyes of the true Romany, peaked at the corners. Her jetty hair descended smoothly from under a red handkerchief down to her shoulders, and there, at the tips, became tangled and curling. Her figure was magnificent, and she swayed and swung from the hips with an easy grace, which reminded the onlookers of a panther's lithe movements. And there was a good deal of the dangerous beast-of-prey beauty about Chaldea, which was enhanced by her picturesque dress. This was ragged and patched with all kinds of colored cloths subdued to mellow tints by wear and weather. Also she jingled with coins and beads and barbaric trinkets of all kinds. Her hands were perfectly formed, and so doubtless were her feet, although these last were hidden by heavy laced-up boots. On the whole, she was an extremely picturesque figure, quite comforting to the artistic eye amidst the drab sameness of latterday civilization.

"All the same, I suspect she is a sleeping volcano," whispered Miss Greeby in her companion's ear as they followed the girl through the camp.

"Scarcely sleeping," answered Lambert in the same tone. "She explodes on the slightest provocation, and not without damaging results."

"Well, you ought to know. But if you play with volcanic fire you'll burn more than your clever fingers."

"Pooh! The girl is only a model."

"Ha! Not much of the lay figure about her, anyway."

Lambert, according to his custom, shrugged his shoulders and did not seek to explain further. If Miss Greeby chose to turn her fancies into facts, she was at liberty to do so. Besides, her attention was luckily attracted by the vivid life of the vagrants which hummed and bustled everywhere. The tribe was a comparatively large one, and-as Miss Greeby learned later-consisted of Lees, Loves, Bucklands, Hernes, and others, all mixed up together in one gypsy stew. The assemblage embraced many clans, and not only were there pure gypsies, but even many diddikai, or half-bloods, to be seen. Perhaps the gradually diminishing Romany clans found it better to band together for mutual benefit than to remain isolated units. But the camp certainly contained many elements, and these, acting co-operatively, formed a large and somewhat reckless community, which justified Garvington's alarm. A raid in the night by one or two, or three, or more of these lean, wiry, dangerous-looking outcasts was not to be despised. But it must be admitted that, in a general way, law and order prevailed in the encampment.

There were many caravans, painted in gay colors and hung round with various goods, such as brushes and brooms, goat-skin rugs, and much tinware, together with baskets of all sorts and sizes. The horses, which drew these rainbow-hued vehicles, were pasturing on the outskirts of the camp, hobbled for the most part. Interspersed among the travelling homes stood tents great and small, wherein the genuine Romany had their abode, but the autumn weather was so fine that most of the inmates preferred to sleep in the moonshine. Of course, there were plenty of dogs quarrelling over bones near various fires, or sleeping with one eye open in odd corners, and everywhere tumbled and laughed and danced, brown-faced, lithe-limbed children, who looked uncannily Eastern. And the men, showing their white teeth in smiles, together with the fawning women, young and handsome, or old and hideously ugly, seemed altogether alien to the quiet, tame domestic English landscape. There was something prehistoric about the scene, and everywhere lurked that sense of dangerous primeval passions held in enforced check which might burst forth on the very slightest provocation.

"It's a migrating tribe of Aryans driven to new hunting grounds by hunger or over-population," said Miss Greeby, for even her unromantic nature was stirred by the unusual picturesqueness of the scene. "The sight of these people and the reek of their fires make me feel like a cave-woman. There is something magnificent about this brutal freedom."

"Very sordid magnificence," replied Lambert, raising his shoulders. "But I understand your feelings. On occasions we all have the nostalgia of the primitive life at times, and delight to pass from ease to hardship."

"Well, civilization isn't much catch, so far as I can see," argued his companion. "It makes men weaklings."

"Certainly not women," he answered, glancing sideways at her Amazonian figure.

"I agree with you. For some reason, men are going down while women are going up, both physically and mentally. I wonder what the future of civilized races will be."

"Here is Mother Cockleshell. Best ask her."

The trio had reached a small tent at the very end of the camp by this time, snugly set up under a spreading oak and near the banks of a babbling brook. Their progress had not been interrupted by any claims on their attention or purses, for a wink from Chaldea had informed her brother and sister gypsies that the Gentile lady had come to consult the queen of the tribe. And, like Lord Burleigh's celebrated nod, Chaldea's wink could convey volumes. At all events, Lambert and his companion were unmolested, and arrived in due course before the royal palace. A croaking voice announced that the queen was inside her Arab tent, and she was crooning some Romany song. Chaldea did not open her mouth, but simply snapped her fingers twice or thrice rapidly. The woman within must have had marvellously sharp ears, for she immediately stopped her incantation-the songs sounded like one-and stepped forth.

"Oh!" said Miss Greeby, stepping back, "I am disappointed."

She had every reason to be after the picturesqueness of the camp in general, and Chaldea in particular, for Mother Cockleshell looked like a threadbare pew-opener, or an almshouse widow who had seen better days. Apparently she was very old, for her figure had shrivelled up into a diminutive monkey form, and she looked as though a moderately high wind could blow her about like a feather. Her face was brown and puckered and lined in a most wonderful fashion. Where a wrinkle could be, there a wrinkle was, and her nose and chin were of the true nutcracker order, as a witch's should be. Only her eyes betrayed the powerful vitality that still animated the tiny frame, for these were large and dark, and had in them a piercing look which seemed to gaze not at any one, but through and beyond. Her figure, dried like that of a mummy, was surprisingly straight for one of her ancient years, and her profuse hair was scarcely touched with the gray of age. Arrayed in a decent black dress, with a decent black bonnet and a black woollen shawl, the old lady looked intensely respectable. There was nothing of the picturesque vagrant about her. Therefore Miss Greeby, and with every reason, was disappointed, and when the queen of the woodland spoke she was still more so, for Mother Cockleshell did not even interlard her English speech with Romany words, as did Chaldea.

"Good day to you, my lady, and to you, sir," said Mother Cockleshell in a stronger and harsher voice than would have been expected from one of her age and diminished stature. "I hope I sees you well," and she dropped a curtsey, just like any village dame who knew her manners.

"Oh!" cried Miss Greeby again. "You don't look a bit like a gypsy queen."

"Ah, my lady, looks ain't everything. But I'm a true-bred Romany-a Stanley of Devonshire. Gentilla is my name and the tent my home, and I can tell fortunes as no one else on the road can."

"Avali, and that is true," put in Chaldea eagerly. "Gentilla's a bori chovihani."

"The child means that I am a great witch, my lady," said the old dame with another curtsey. "Though she's foolish to use Romany words to Gentiles as don't understand the tongue which the dear Lord spoke in Eden's garden, as the good Book tells us."

"In what part of the Bible do you find that?" asked Lambert laughing.

"Oh, my sweet gentleman, it ain't for the likes of me to say things to the likes of you," said Mother Cockleshell, getting out of her difficulty very cleverly, "but the dear lady wants her fortune told, don't she?"

"Why don't you say dukkerin?"

"I don't like them wicked words, sir," answered Mother Cockleshell piously.

"Wicked words," muttered Chaldea tossing her black locks. "And them true Romany as was your milk tongue. No wonder the Gentiles don't fancy you a true one of the road. If I were queen of-"

A vicious little devil flashed out of the old woman's eyes, and her respectable looks changed on the instant. "Tol yer chib, or I'll heat the bones of you with the fires of Bongo Tem," she screamed furiously, and in a mixture of her mother-tongue and English. "Ja pukenus, slut of the gutter," she shook her fist, and Chaldea, with an insulting laugh, moved away. "Bengis your see! Bengis your see! And that, my generous lady," she added, turning round with a sudden resumption of her fawning respectability, "means 'the devil in your heart,' which I spoke witchly-like to the child. Ah, but she's a bad one."

Miss Greeby laughed outright. "This is more like the real thing."

"Poor Chaldea," said Lambert. "You're too hard on her, mother."

"And you, my sweet gentleman, ain't hard enough. She'll sell you, and get Kara to put the knife between your ribs."

"Why should he? I'm not in love with the girl."

"The tree don't care for the ivy, but the ivy loves the tree," said Mother Cockleshell darkly. "You're a good and kind gentleman, and I don't want to see that slut pick your bones.


"So I think," whispered Miss Greeby in his ear. "You play with fire."

"Aye, my good lady," said Mother Cockleshell, catching the whisper-she had the hearing of a cat. "With the fire of Bongo Tern, the which you may call The Crooked Land," and she pointed significantly downward.

"Hell, do you mean?" asked Miss Greeby in her bluff way.

"The Crooked Land we Romany calls it," insisted the old woman. "And the child will go there, for her witchly doings."

"She's too good-looking to lose as a model, at all events," said Lambert, hitching his shoulders. "I shall leave you to have your fortune told, Clara, and follow Chaldea to pacify her."

As he went toward the centre of the camp, Miss Greeby took a hesitating step as though to follow him. In her opinion Chaldea was much too good-looking, let alone clever, for Lambert to deal with alone. Gentilla Stanley saw the look on the hard face and the softening of the hard eyes as the cheeks grew rosy red. From this emotion she drew her conclusions, and she chuckled to think of how true a fortune she could tell the visitor on these premises. Mother Cockleshell's fortune-telling was not entirely fraudulent, but when her clairvoyance was not in working order she made use of character-reading with good results.

"Won't the Gorgios lady have her fortune told?" she asked in wheedling tones. "Cross Mother Cockleshell's hand with silver and she'll tell the coming years truly."

"Why do they call you Mother Cockleshell?" demanded Miss Greeby, waiving the question of fortune-telling for the time being.

"Bless your wisdom, it was them fishermen at Grimsby who did so. I walked the beaches for years and told charms and gave witchly spells for fine weather. Gentilla Stanley am I called, but Mother Cockleshell was their name for me. But the fortune, my tender Gentile-"

"I don't want it told," interrupted Miss Greeby abruptly. "I don't believe in such rubbish."

"There is rubbish and there is truth," said the ancient gypsy darkly. "And them as knows can see what's hidden from others."

"Well, you will have an opportunity this afternoon of making money. Some fools from The Manor are coming to consult you."

Mother Cockleshell nodded and grinned to show a set of beautifully preserved teeth. "I know The Manor," said she, rubbing her slim hands. "And Lord Garvington, with his pretty sister."

"Lady Agnes Pine?" asked Miss Greeby. "How do you know, her?"

"I've been in these parts before, my gentle lady, and she was good to me in a sick way. I would have died in the hard winter if she hadn't fed me and nursed me, so to speak. I shall love to see her again. To dick a puro pal is as commoben as a aushti habben, the which, my precious angel, is true Romany for the Gentile saying, 'To see an old friend is as good as a fine dinner.' Avali! Avali!" she nodded smilingly. "I shall be glad to see her, though here I use Romany words to you as doesn't understand the lingo."

Miss Greeby was not at all pleased to hear Lady Agnes praised; as, knowing that Lambert had loved her, and probably loved her still, she was jealous enough to wish her all possible harm. However, it was not diplomatic to reveal her true feelings to Mother Cockleshell, lest the old gypsy should repeat her words to Lady Agnes, so she turned the conversation by pointing to a snow-white cat of great size, who stepped daintily out of the tent. "I should think, as a witch, your cat ought to be black," said Miss Greeby. Mother Cockleshell screeched like a night-owl and hastily pattered some gypsy spell to avert evil. "Why, the old devil is black," she cried. "And why should I have him in my house to work evil? This is my white ghost." Her words were accompanied by a gentle stroking of the cat. "And good is what she brings to my roof-tree. But I don't eat from white dishes, or drink from white mugs. No! No! That would be too witchly."

Miss Greeby mused. "I have heard something about these gypsy superstitions before," she remarked meditatively.

"Avo! Avo! They are in a book written by a great Romany Rye. Leland is the name of that rye, a gypsy Lee with Gentile land. He added land to the lea as he was told by one of our people. Such a nice gentleman, kind, and free of his money and clever beyond tellings, as I always says. Many a time has he sat pal-like with me, and 'Gentilla,' says he, 'your're a bori chovihani'; and that, my generous lady, is the gentle language for a great witch."

"Chaldea said that you were that," observed Miss Greeby carelessly.

"The child speaks truly. Come, cross my hand, sweet lady."

Miss Greeby passed along half a crown. "I only desire to know one thing," she said, offering her palm. "Shall I get my wish?"

Mother Cockleshell peered into the hands, although she had already made up her mind what to say. Her faculties, sharpened by years of chicanery, told her from the look which Miss Greeby had given when Lambert followed Chaldea, that a desire to marry the man was the wish in question. And seeing how indifferent Lambert was in the presence of the tall lady, Mother Cockleshell had no difficulty in adjusting the situation in her own artful mind. "No, my lady," she said, casting away the hand with quite a dramatic gesture. "You will never gain your wish."

Miss Greeby looked angry. "Bah! Your fortune-telling is all rubbish, as I have always thought," and she moved away.

"Tell me that in six months," screamed the old woman after her.

"Why six months?" demanded the other, pausing.

"Ah, that's a dark saying," scoffed the gypsy. "Call it seven, my hopeful-for-what-you-won't-get, like the cat after the cream, for seven's a sacred number, and the spell is set."

"Gypsy jargon, gypsy lies," muttered Miss Greeby, tossing her ruddy mane. "I don't believe a word. Tell me-"

"There's no time to say more," interrupted Mother Cockleshell rudely, for, having secured her money, she did not think it worth while to be polite, especially in the face of her visitor's scepticism. "One of our tribe-aye, and he's a great Romany for sure-is coming to camp with us. Each minute he may come, and I go to get ready a stew of hedgehog, for Gentile words I must use to you, who are a Gorgio. And so good day to you, my lady," ended the old hag, again becoming the truly respectable pew-opener. Then she dropped a curtsey-whether ironical or not, Miss Greeby could not tell-and disappeared into the tent, followed by the white cat, who haunted her footsteps like the ghost she declared it to be.

Clearly there was nothing more to be learned from Mother Cockleshell, who, in the face of her visitor's doubts, had become hostile, so Miss Greeby, dismissing the whole episode as over and done with, turned her attention toward finding Lambert. With her bludgeon under her arm and her hands in the pockets of her jacket, she stalked through the camp in quite a masculine fashion, not vouchsafing a single reply to the greetings which the gypsies gave her. Shortly she saw the artist chatting with Chaldea at the beginning of the path which led to his cottage. Beside them, on the grass, squatted a queer figure.

It was that of a little man, very much under-sized, with a hunch back and a large, dark, melancholy face covered profusely with black hair. He wore corduroy trousers and clumsy boots-his feet and hands were enormous-together with a green coat and a red handkerchief which was carelessly twisted round his hairy throat. On his tangled locks-distressingly shaggy and unkempt-he wore no hat, and he looked like a brownie, grotesque, though somewhat sad. But even more did he resemble an ape-or say the missing link-and only his eyes seemed human. These were large, dark and brilliant, sparkling like jewels under his elf-locks. He sat cross-legged on the sward and hugged a fiddle, as though he were nursing a baby. And, no doubt, he was as attached to his instrument as any mother could be to her child. It was not difficult for Miss Greeby to guess that this weird, hairy dwarf was the Servian gypsy Kara, of whom Lambert had spoken. She took advantage of the knowledge to be disagreeable to the girl.

"Is this your husband?" asked Miss Greeby amiably.

Chaldea's eyes flashed and her cheeks grew crimson. "Not at all," she said contemptuously. "I have no rom."

"Ah, your are not married?"

"No," declared Chaldea curtly, and shot a swift glance at Lambert.

"She is waiting for the fairy prince," said that young gentleman smiling. "And he is coming to this camp almost immediately."

"Ishmael Hearne is coming," replied the gypsy. "But he is no rom of mine, and never will be."

"Who is he, then?" asked Lambert carelessly.

"One of the great Romany."

Miss Greeby remembered that Mother Cockleshell had also spoken of the expected arrival at the camp in these terms. "A kind of king?" she asked.

Chaldea laughed satirically. "Yes; a kind of king," she assented; then turned her back rudely on the speaker and addressed Lambert: "I can't come, rye. Ishmael will want to see me. I must wait."

"What a nuisance," said Lambert, looking annoyed. "Fancy, Clara. I have an idea of painting these two as Beauty and the Beast, or perhaps as Esmeralda and Quasimodo. I want them to come to the cottage and sit now, but they will wait for this confounded Ishmael."

"We can come to-morrow," put in Chaldea quickly. "This afternoon I must dance for Ishmael, and Kara must play."

"Ishmael will meet with a fine reception," said Miss Greeby, and then, anxious to have a private conversation with Chaldea so as to disabuse her mind of any idea she may have entertained of marrying Lambert, she added, "I think I shall stay and see him."

"In that case, I shall return to my cottage," replied Lambert, sauntering up the pathway, which was strewn with withered leaves.

"When are you coming to The Manor?" called Miss Greeby after him.

"Never! I am too busy," he replied over his shoulder and disappeared into the wood. This departure may seem discourteous, but then Miss Greeby liked to be treated like a comrade and without ceremony. That is, she liked it so far as other men were concerned, but not as regards Lambert. She loved him too much to approve of his careless leave-taking, and therefore she frowned darkly, as she turned her attention to Chaldea.

The girl saw that Miss Greeby was annoyed, and guessed the cause of her annoyance. The idea that this red-haired and gaunt woman should love the handsome Gorgio was so ludicrous in Chaldea's eyes that she laughed in an ironical fashion. Miss Greeby turned on her sharply, but before she could speak there was a sound of many voices raised in welcome. "Sarishan pal! Sarishan ba!" cried the voices, and Chaldea started.

"Ishmael!" she said, and ran toward the camp, followed leisurely by Kara.

Anxious to see the great Romany, whose arrival caused all this commotion, Miss Greeby plunged into the crowd of excited vagrants. These surrounded a black horse, on which sat a slim, dark-faced man of the true Romany breed. Miss Greeby stared at him and blinked her eyes, as though she could not believe what they beheld, while the man waved his hand and responded to the many greetings in gypsy language. His eyes finally met her own as she stood on the outskirts of the crowd, and he started. Then she knew. "Sir Hubert Pine," said Miss Greeby, still staring. "Sir Hubert Pine!"

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