WHILST their husbands are engaged in their jockey vocation, or in wielding the cachas, the Callees, or Gypsy females, are seldom idle, but are endeavouring, by various means, to make all the gain they can. The richest amongst them are generally contrabandistas, and in the large towns go from house to house with prohibited goods, especially silk and cotton, and occasionally with tobacco. They likewise purchase cast-off female wearing-apparel, which, when vamped up and embellished, they sometimes contrive to sell as new, with no inconsiderable profit.
Gitanas of this description are of the most respectable class; the rest, provided they do not sell roasted chestnuts, or esteras, which are a species of mat, seek a livelihood by different tricks and practices, more or less fraudulent; for example -
LA BAHI, or fortune-telling, which is called in Spanish, BUENA VENTURA. - This way of extracting money from the credulity of dupes is, of all those practised by the Gypsies, the readiest and most easy; promises are the only capital requisite, and the whole art of fortune-telling consists in properly adapting these promises to the age and condition of the parties who seek for information. The Gitanas are clever enough in the accomplishment of this, and in most cases afford perfect satisfaction. Their practice chiefly lies amongst females, the portion of the human race most given to curiosity and credulity. To the young maidens they promise lovers, handsome invariably, and sometimes rich; to wives children, and perhaps another husband; for their eyes are so penetrating, that occasionally they will develop your most secret thoughts and wishes; to the old, riches - and nothing but riches; for they have sufficient knowledge of the human heart to be aware that avarice is the last passion that becomes extinct within it. These riches are to proceed either from the discovery of hidden treasures or from across the water; from the Americas, to which the Spaniards still look with hope, as there is no individual in Spain, however poor, but has some connection in those realms of silver and gold, at whose death he considers it probable that he may succeed to a brilliant 'herencia.' The Gitanas, in the exercise of this practice, find dupes almost as readily amongst the superior classes, as the veriest dregs of the population. It is their boast, that the best houses are open to them; and perhaps in the space of one hour, they will spae the bahi to a duchess, or countess, in one of the hundred palaces of Madrid, and to half a dozen of the lavanderas engaged in purifying the linen of the capital, beneath the willows which droop on the banks of the murmuring Manzanares. One great advantage which the Gypsies possess over all other people is an utter absence of MAUVAISE HONTE; their speech is as fluent, and their eyes as unabashed, in the presence of royalty, as before those from whom they have nothing to hope or fear; the result being, that most minds quail before them. There were two Gitanas at Madrid, one Pepita by name, and the other La Chicharona; the first was a spare, shrewd, witch- like female, about fifty, and was the mother-in-law of La Chicharona, who was remarkable for her stoutness. These women subsisted entirely by fortune-telling and swindling. It chanced that the son of Pepita, and husband of Chicharona, having spirited away a horse, was sent to the presidio of Malaga for ten years of hard labour. This misfortune caused inexpressible affliction to his wife and mother, who determined to make every effort to procure his liberation. The readiest way which occurred to them was to procure an interview with the Queen Regent Christina, who they doubted not would forthwith pardon the culprit, provided they had an opportunity of assailing her with their Gypsy discourse; for, to use their own words, 'they well knew what to say.' I at that time lived close by the palace, in the street of Santiago, and daily, for the space of a month, saw them bending their steps in that direction.
One day they came to me in a great hurry, with a strange expression on both their countenances. 'We have seen Christina, hijo' (my son), said Pepita to me.
'Within the palace?' I inquired.
'Within the palace, O child of my garlochin,' answered the sibyl: 'Christina at last saw and sent for us, as I knew she would; I told her "bahi," and Chicharona danced the Romalis (Gypsy dance) before her.'
'What did you tell her?'
'I told her many things,' said the hag, 'many things which I need not tell you: know, however, that amongst other things, I told her that the chabori (little queen) would die, and then she would be Queen of Spain. I told her, moreover, that within three years she would marry the son of the King of France, and it was her bahi to die Queen of France and Spain, and to be loved much, and hated much.'
'And did you not dread her anger, when you told her these things?'
'Dread her, the Busnee?' screamed Pepita: 'No, my child, she dreaded me far more; I looked at her so - and raised my finger so - and Chicharona clapped her hands, and the Busnee believed all I said, and was afraid of me; and then I asked for the pardon of my son, and she pledged her word to see into the matter, and when we came away, she gave me this baria of gold, and to Chicharona this other, so at all events we have hokkanoed the queen. May an evil end overtake her body, the Busnee!'
Though some of the Gitanas contrive to subsist by fortune-telling alone, the generality of them merely make use of it as an instrument towards the accomplishment of greater things. The immediate gains are scanty; a few cuartos being the utmost which they receive from the majority of their customers. But the bahi is an excellent passport into houses, and when they spy a convenient opportunity, they seldom fail to avail themselves of it. It is necessary to watch them strictly, as articles frequently disappear in a mysterious manner whilst Gitanas are telling fortunes. The bahi, moreover, is occasionally the prelude to a device which we shall now attempt to describe, and which is called HOKKANO BARO, or the great trick, of which we have already said something in the former part of this work. It consists in persuading some credulous person to deposit whatever money and valuables the party can muster in a particular spot, under the promise that the deposit will increase many manifold. Some of our readers will have difficulty in believing that any people can be found sufficiently credulous to allow themselves to be duped by a trick of this description, the grossness of the intended fraud seeming too palpable. Experience, however, proves the contrary. The deception is frequently practised at the present day, and not only in Spain but in England - enlightened England - and in France likewise; an instance being given in the memoirs of Vidocq, the late celebrated head of the secret police of Paris, though, in that instance, the perpetrator of the fraud was not a Gypsy. The most subtle method of accomplishing the hokkano baro is the following:-
When the dupe - a widow we will suppose, for in these cases the dupes are generally widows - has been induced to consent to make the experiment, the Gitana demands of her whether she has in the house some strong chest with a safe lock. On receiving an affirmative answer, she will request to see all the gold and silver of any description which she may chance to have in her possession. The treasure is shown her; and when the Gitana has carefully inspected and counted it, she produces a white handkerchief, saying, Lady, I give you this handkerchief, which is blessed. Place in it your gold and silver, and tie it with three knots. I am going for three days, during which period you must keep the bundle beneath your pillow, permitting no one to go near it, and observing the greatest secrecy, otherwise the money will take wings and fly away. Every morning during the three days it will be well to open the bundle, for your own satisfaction, to see that no misfortune has befallen your treasure; be always careful, however, to fasten it again with the three knots. On my return, we will place the bundle, after having inspected it, in the chest, which you shall yourself lock, retaining the key in your possession. But, thenceforward, for three weeks, you must by no means unlock the chest, nor look at the treasure - if you do it will fly away. Only follow my directions, and you will gain much, very much, baribu.
The Gitana departs, and, during the three days, prepares a bundle as similar as possible to the one which contains the money of her dupe, save that instead of gold ounces, dollars, and plate, its contents consist of copper money and pewter articles of little or no value. With this bundle concealed beneath her cloak, she returns at the end of three days to her intended victim. The bundle of real treasure is produced and inspected, and again tied up by the Gitana, who then requests the other to open the chest, which done, she formally places A BUNDLE in it; but, in the meanwhile, she has contrived to substitute the fictitious for the real one. The chest is then locked, the lady retaining the key. The Gitana promises to return at the end of three weeks, to open the chest, assuring the lady that if it be not unlocked until that period, it will be found filled with gold and silver; but threatening that in the event of her injunctions being disregarded, the money deposited will vanish. She then walks off with great deliberation, bearing away the spoil. It is needless to say that she never returns.
There are other ways of accomplishing the hokkano baro. The most simple, and indeed the one most generally used by the Gitanas, is to persuade some simple individual to hide a sum of money in the earth, which they afterwards carry away. A case of this description occurred within my own knowledge, at Madrid, towards the latter part of the year 1837. There was a notorious Gitana, of the name of Aurora; she was about forty years of age, a Valencian by birth, and immensely fat. This amiable personage, by some means, formed the acquaintance of a wealthy widow lady; and was not slow in attempting to practise the hokkano baro upon her. She succeeded but too well. The widow, at the instigation of Aurora, buried one hundred ounces of gold beneath a ruined arch in a field, at a short distance from the wall of Madrid. The inhumation was effected at night by the widow alone. Aurora was, however, on the watch, and, in less than ten minutes after the widow had departed, possessed herself of the treasure; perhaps the largest one ever acquired by this kind of deceit. The next day the widow had certain misgivings, and, returning to the spot, found her money gone. About six months after this event, I was imprisoned in the Carcel de la Corte, at Madrid, and there I found Aurora, who was in durance for defrauding the widow. She said that it had been her intention to depart for Valencia with the 'barias,' as she styled her plunder, but the widow had discovered the trick too soon, and she had been arrested. She added, however, that she had contrived to conceal the greatest part of the property, and that she expected her liberation in a few days, having been prodigal of bribes to the 'justicia.' In effect, her liberation took place sooner than my own. Nevertheless, she had little cause to triumph, as before she left the prison she had been fleeced of the last cuarto of her ill- gotten gain, by alguazils and escribanos, who, she admitted, understood hokkano baro much better than herself.
When I next saw Aurora, she informed me that she was once more on excellent terms with the widow, whom she had persuaded that the loss of the money was caused by her own imprudence, in looking for it before the appointed time; the spirit of the earth having removed it in anger. She added that her dupe was quite disposed to make another venture, by which she hoped to retrieve her former loss.
USTILAR PASTESAS. - Under this head may be placed various kinds of theft committed by the Gitanos. The meaning of the words is stealing with the hands; but they are more generally applied to the filching of money by dexterity of hand, when giving or receiving change. For example: a Gitana will enter a shop, and purchase some insignificant article, tendering in payment a baria or golden ounce. The change being put down before her on the counter, she counts the money, and complains that she has received a dollar and several pesetas less than her due. It seems impossible that there can be any fraud on her part, as she has not even taken the pieces in her hand, but merely placed her fingers upon them; pushing them on one side. She now asks the merchant what he means by attempting to deceive the poor woman. The merchant, supposing that he has made a mistake, takes up the money, counts it, and finds in effect that the just sum is not there. He again hands out the change, but there is now a greater deficiency than before, and the merchant is convinced that he is dealing with a witch. The Gitana now pushes the money to him, uplifts her voice, and talks of the justicia. Should the merchant become frightened, and, emptying a bag of dollars, tell her to pay herself, as has sometimes been the case, she will have a fine opportunity to exercise her powers, and whilst taking the change will contrive to convey secretly into her sleeves five or six dollars at least; after which she will depart with much vociferation, declaring that she will never again enter the shop of so cheating a picaro.
Of all the Gitanas at Madrid, Aurora the fat was, by their own confession, the most dexterous at this species of robbery; she having been known in many instances, whilst receiving change for an ounce, to steal the whole value, which amounts to sixteen dollars. It was not without reason that merchants in ancient times were, according to Martin Del Rio, advised to sell nothing out of their shops to Gitanas, as they possessed an infallible secret for attracting to their own purses from the coffers of the former the money with which they paid for the articles they purchased. This secret consisted in stealing a pastesas, which they still practise. Many accounts of witchcraft and sorcery, which are styled old women's tales, are perhaps equally well founded. Real actions have been attributed to wrong causes.
Shoplifting, and other kinds of private larceny, are connected with stealing a pastesas, for in all dexterity of hand is required. Many of the Gitanas of Madrid are provided with large pockets, or rather sacks, beneath their gowns, in which they stow away their plunder. Some of these pockets are capacious enough to hold, at one time, a dozen yards of cloth, a Dutch cheese and a bottle of wine. Nothing that she can eat, drink, or sell, comes amiss to a veritable Gitana; and sometimes the contents of her pocket would afford materials for an inventory far more lengthy and curious than the one enumerating the effects found on the person of the man- mountain at Lilliput.
CHIVING DRAO. - In former times the Spanish Gypsies of both sexes were in the habit of casting a venomous preparation into the mangers of the cattle for the purpose of causing sickness. At present this practice has ceased, or nearly so; the Gitanos, however, talk of it as universal amongst their ancestors. They were in the habit of visiting the stalls and stables secretly, and poisoning the provender of the animals, who almost immediately became sick. After a few days the Gitanos would go to the labourers and offer to cure the sick cattle for a certain sum, and if their proposal was accepted would in effect perform the cure.
Connected with the cure was a curious piece of double dealing. They privately administered an efficacious remedy, but pretended to cure the animals not by medicines but by charms, which consisted of small variegated beans, called in their language bobis, (56) dropped into the mangers. By this means they fostered the idea, already prevalent, that they were people possessed of supernatural gifts and powers, who could remove diseases without having recourse to medicine. By means of drao, they likewise procured themselves food; poisoning swine, as their brethren in England still do, (57) and then feasting on the flesh, which was abandoned as worthless: witness one of their own songs:-
'By Gypsy drow the Porker died,
I saw him stiff at evening tide,
But I saw him not when morning shone,
For the Gypsies ate him flesh and bone.'
By drao also they could avenge themselves on their enemies by destroying their cattle, without incurring a shadow of suspicion. Revenge for injuries, real or imaginary, is sweet to all unconverted minds; to no one more than the Gypsy, who, in all parts of the world, is, perhaps, the most revengeful of human beings.
Vidocq in his memoirs states, that having formed a connection with an individual whom he subsequently discovered to be the captain of a band of Walachian Gypsies, the latter, whose name was Caroun, wished Vidocq to assist in scattering certain powders in the mangers of the peasants' cattle; Vidocq, from prudential motives, refused the employment. There can be no doubt that these powders were, in substance, the drao of the Spanish Gitanos.
LA BAR LACHI, OR THE LOADSTONE. - If the Gitanos in general be addicted to any one superstition, it is certainly with respect to this stone, to which they attribute all kinds of miraculous powers. There can be no doubt, that the singular property which it possesses of attracting steel, by filling their untutored minds with amazement, first gave rise to this veneration, which is carried beyond all reasonable bounds.
They believe that he who is in possession of it has nothing to fear from steel or lead, from fire or water, and that death itself has no power over him. The Gypsy contrabandistas are particularly anxious to procure this stone, which they carry upon their persons in their expeditions; they say, that in the event of being pursued by the jaracanallis, or revenue officers, whirlwinds of dust will arise, and conceal them from the view of their enemies; the horse- stealers say much the same thing, and assert that they are uniformly successful, when they bear about them the precious stone. But it is said to be able to effect much more. Extraordinary things are related of its power in exciting the amorous passions, and, on this account, it is in great request amongst the Gypsy hags; all these women are procuresses, and find persons of both sexes weak and wicked enough to make use of their pretended knowledge in the composition of love-draughts and decoctions.
In the case of the loadstone, however, there is no pretence, the Gitanas believing all they say respecting it, and still more; this is proved by the eagerness with which they seek to obtain the stone in its natural state, which is somewhat difficult to accomplish.
In the museum of natural curiosities at Madrid there is a large piece of loadstone originally extracted from the American mines. There is scarcely a Gitana in Madrid who is not acquainted with this circumstance, and who does not long to obtain the stone, or a part of it; its being placed in a royal museum serving to augment, in their opinion, its real value. Several attempts have been made to steal it, all of which, however, have been unsuccessful. The Gypsies seem not to be the only people who envy royalty the possession of this stone. Pepita, the old Gitana of whose talent at telling fortunes such honourable mention has already been made, informed me that a priest, who was muy enamorado (in love), proposed to her to steal the loadstone, offering her all his sacerdotal garments in the event of success: whether the singular reward that was promised had but slight temptations for her, or whether she feared that her dexterity was not equal to the accomplishment of the task, we know not, but she appears to have declined attempting it. According to the Gypsy account, the person in love, if he wish to excite a corresponding passion in another quarter by means of the loadstone, must swallow, IN AGUARDIENTE, a small portion of the stone pulverised, at the time of going to rest, repeating to himself the following magic rhyme:-
'To the Mountain of Olives one morning I hied,
Three little black goats before me I spied,
Those three little goats on three cars I laid,
Black cheeses three from their milk I made;
The one I bestow on the loadstone of power,
That save me it may from all ills that lower;
The second to Mary Padilla I give,
And to all the witch hags about her that live;
The third I reserve for Asmodeus lame,
That fetch me he may whatever I name.'
LA RAIZ DEL BUEN BARON, OR THE ROOT OF THE GOOD BARON. - On this subject we cannot be very explicit. It is customary with the Gitanas to sell, under this title, various roots and herbs, to unfortunate females who are desirous of producing a certain result; these roots are boiled in white wine, and the abominable decoction is taken fasting. I was once shown the root of the good baron, which, in this instance, appeared to be parsley root. By the good baron is meant his Satanic majesty, on whom the root is very appropriately fathered.
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