I was born on the 31st of March 1860, in a gipsy tent, the son of gipsies, Cornelius Smith and his wife Mary Welch. The place was the parish of Wanstead, near Epping Forest, a mile and a half from the Green Man, Leytonstone. When I got old enough to ask questions about my birth my mother was dead, but my father told me the place, though not the date. It was only quite recently that I knew the date for certain. A good aunt of mine took the trouble to get some one to examine the register of Wanstead Church, and there found an entry giving the date of the birth and christening of Rodney Smith. I discovered that I was a year younger than I took myself to be. The gipsies care little for religion and know nothing really of God and the Bible, yet they always take care to get their babies christened, because it is a matter of business. The clergyman of the nearest parish church is invited to come to the encampment and perform the ceremony. To the “gorgios” (people who are not gipsies) the event is one of rare and curious interest. Some of the ladies of the congregation are sure to accompany the parson to see the gipsy baby, and they cannot very well do this without bringing presents for the gipsy mother and more often for the baby. The gipsies believe in christenings for the profit they can make out of them. They have beside some sort of notion that it is the right thing to do.
I was the fourth child of my parents. Two girls and a boy came before me and two girls came after me. My brother and my sisters except the last-born are alive. My eldest sister is Mrs. Ball, wife of Councillor Ball, of Hanley, the first gipsy in the history of the country to occupy a seat in a Town Council. And he is always returned at the head of the poll. Councillor Ball, who is an auctioneer, has given up his tent and lives in a house. My brother Ezekiel works on the railway at Cambridge, and is a leading spirit of the Railway Mission there. He was the last of the family to leave the gipsy tent, and he did it after a deal of persuasion and with great reluctance. My father and I, on visiting Cambridge, got him to take up his quarters in a nice little cottage there. When I returned to the town some months later and sought him in his cottage, I found that he was not there and that he had gone back to his tent. “Whatever made you leave the cottage, Ezekiel?” I asked. “It was so cold,” he replied. Gipsy wagons and tents are very comfortable – “gorgios” should make no mistake about that. My second sister, Lovinia, is Mrs. Oakley, and lives at Luton, a widow. I had a mission at Luton last year, and she was one of those who came to Christ. My father, myself, and others of us had offered thousands of prayers for her, and at that mission, she, a backslider for over twenty-five years, was restored. God gave me this honour - the joy of bringing my beloved sister back to the fold. I need not say that I think of that mission with special warmth of gratitude to God. Mrs. Evens - Matilda, the baby of the family - helped me a great deal in my early evangelistic labours, and together with her husband has done and is doing good work for the Liverpool Wesleyan Mission.
Eighty out of every hundred gipsies have Bible names. My father was called Cornelius, my brother Ezekiel. My uncle Bartholomew was the father of twelve children, to every one of whom he gave a Scriptural name - Naomi, Samson, Delilah, Elijah, Simeon, and the like. Fancy having a Samson and a Delilah in the same family! Yet the gipsies have no Bibles, and if they had they could not read them. Whence, then, these Scriptural names? Do they not come down to us from tradition? May it not be that we are one of the lost tribes? We ourselves believe that we are akin to the Jews, and when one regards the gipsies from the point of view of an outsider one is able to discover some striking resemblances between the gipsies and the Jews. In the first place, many gipsies bear a striking facial resemblance to the Jews. Our noses are not usually quite so prominent, but we often have the eyes and hair of Jews. Nature asserts herself. And although, as far as the knowledge of religion is concerned, gipsies dwell in the deepest heathen darkness, in the days when I was a boy they scrupulously observed the law of the Sabbath, except when the “gorgios”, visited them and tempted them with money to tell their fortunes. It was a great trouble to my father - I am speaking of him in his unregenerate days - to have to pull up his tent on the Sabbath day. And I have known him go a mile on Saturday to get a bucket of water, so that he should not have to travel for it on the Sunday. And the bundles of sticks for the fire on Sunday were all gathered the day before. Even whistling a song tune was not allowed on the Sunday. When I was a boy I have been knocked over more than once for so far forgetting myself as to engage in this simple diversion on the Sunday. Sunday to the gipsies is a real rest-day. And at the same time it is the only day on which they get a properly cooked mid-day meal! Then, again, the ancient Jewish law and custom of marriage is the same as that which is in vogue or was in vogue until quite recently among the gipsies. Sixty years ago a marriage according to the law of the land was unknown among the gipsies. The sweet hearting of a gipsy young man and maiden usually extends over a long period, or, as “gorgios” would say, the rule is long engagements. Very often they have grown up sweethearts from boy and girl. It was so with my brother Ezekiel and his wife. There is never such a thing as a gipsy breach of promise case, and if there were the evidence would probably be scanty, for gipsy sweethearts do not write to each other - because they cannot. Ninety-nine out of every hundred of them have never held a pen in their hands. When the young people are able to set up for themselves they make a covenant with each other. Beyond this there is no marriage ceremony. There is nothing of jumping over tongs or broomsticks, or any other of the tomfooleries that outsiders attribute to gipsies. The ceremonial is the same as that which was observed at the nuptials of Rebekah and Isaac. Isaac brought Rebekah into his tent, and she became his wife, and he lived with her. The gipsies are the most faithful and devoted of husbands. I ought to add that the making of the marriage covenant is usually followed by a spree.
When a gipsy becomes converted, one of the first things about which he gets anxious is this defective marriage ceremonial. At one of my missions an old gipsy man of seventy-four sought and found his Saviour. He went away happy. Some days after he came back to see me. I perceived that something was oppressing his mind. “Well, uncle, what’s the matter?” I asked. By the way, I should say that gipsies have great reverence for old age. We should never think of addressing an old man or woman by his or her name - not Mr. Smith or Mrs. Smith, John or Sally, but always uncle or aunt, terms of affection and respect among us. Uncle looked at me gloomily and said: “The truth is, my dear, my wife and I have never been legally married.” They had been married according to the only fashion known among the gipsies, and I told him that in the eyes of God they were true husband and wife. But he would not be persuaded. “No,” he said, “I am converted now: I want everything to be straight. We must get legally married.” And they did, and were satisfied.
Like the Jews, the gipsies have in a wonderful way preserved their identity as a race. Their separate existence can be traced back for centuries. Throughout these long years they have kept their language, habits, customs, and eccentricities untouched. The history of gipsies and of their tongue has baffled the most laborious and erudite scholars. We can be traced back until we are lost on the plains of India, but even in these far-off days we were a distinct race. Like the Jews, the gipsies are very clean. A man who does not keep his person or belongings clean is called “chickly” (dirty), and is despised. They have hand-towels for washing themselves, and these are used for nothing else. They are scrupulously careful about their food. They would not think of washing their tablecloth with the other linen. Cups and saucers are never washed in soapy water. I saw my uncle trample on and destroy a copper kettle-lid because one of his children by mistake had dropped it in the washtub. It had become “unclean.” A sick person has a spoon, plate, and basin all to himself. When he has recovered or if he dies they are all destroyed. It is customary at death to destroy the possessions of the dead person or to bury them with him. When an uncle of mine died, my aunt bought a coffin large enough for all his possessions - including his fiddle, cup and saucer, plate, knife, etc - except, of course, his wagon. My wife and my sister pleaded hard for the cup and saucer as a keepsake, but she was resolute. Nobody should ever use them again.
To return to my father. He earned his living by making baskets, clothes pegs, all sorts of tin ware, and re-caning cane-chairs. Of course in his unconverted days he “found” the willows for the baskets and the wood for the clothes pegs. Gipsies only buy what they cannot “find.” My father had inherited his occupation from many generations of ancestors. He also pursued the trade of horse-dealer, a business in which gipsies are thoroughly expert. What a gipsy does not know about horses is not worth knowing. The trade is one in which tricks and dodges are frequently practised. A Dr. Chinnery, whom I met on one of my visits to America, told me of a gipsy horse-dealer, for whose conversion he had been particularly anxious and with whom he had frequently talked. Said this gipsy, “Can I be a Christian and sell horses?” Dr. Chinnery urged him to try, and he did. The poor gipsy found the conjunction of callings very difficult, but he managed to make it work. After two or three years, Dr. Chinnery asked him how he was getting on. He answered that when he had a good horse to sell he told those with whom he was dealing that it was a good horse. Since he had become a Christian they believed him. If it was a horse about which he knew little, or a horse of which he had doubts, he said, “My friends, this (naming the sum) is my price. I do not know anything about the horse; you must examine him yourselves, and assure yourselves of his fitness. Use your judgment; you buy him at your own risk.” It will be seen from this anecdote that the gipsies are not wanting in finesse. This gipsy had also not a little of the Yankee cuteness which is breathed in with the American air. His Christianity did not in the least hinder but rather helped his horse dealing.
The gipsy women sell what their husbands make, and of course when we were all little my mother did the selling for us. The women are the travellers, for the concern, the men are the manufacturers. This old trade of making baskets is passing out of the hands of the gipsies; they can buy these goods for less than it costs to make them, and consequently they confine themselves to selling them. Re-caning chairs and mending baskets is still done by some. Most of the men deal in horses and in anything else which is possible to their manner of life, and out of which they can make money. I estimate that there are from 20,000 to 25,000 gipsies in the British Isles. The womenfolk amongst them still do most of the selling, but I am afraid that too frequently they carry their wares about with them merely as a blind. The occupation of most of them is fortune telling. It is the fashion and the folly of the “gorgios” that have to a large extent forced this disgraceful profession upon gipsy women. Soothsaying is an Eastern custom, a gift that westerners have attributed to Orientals. The gipsies are an Eastern race, and the idea has in course of generations grown up among outsiders, that they too can reveal the secrets of the hidden future. The gipsies do not themselves believe this; they know that fortune telling is a mere cheat, but they are not averse to making profit out of the folly and superstition of the “gorgios.” I know some of my people may be very angry with me for this statement, but the truth must be told.
We travelled in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Bedford, and Hertford. In my young days I knew these parts of England well, but since I left my gipsy tent nearly a quarter of a century ago I have not seen much of them. I had no education and no knowledge of “gorgio” civilisation, and I grew up wild as the birds, frolicsome as the lambs, and as difficult to catch as the rabbits. All the grasses and flowers and trees of the field and all living things were my friends and companions. Some of them, indeed, got almost too familiar with me. The rabbits, for instance, were so fond of me that they sometimes followed me home. I think I learned then to have a sympathetic nature, even if I learned nothing else. My earliest clear impression of these days, which have now retreated so far into the past, is that of falling from the front of my father’s wagon. I had given the horse a stroke, as boys will do. He made a sudden leap and jerked me off on to the road. What followed has passed from my mind, but my father tells me I was run over by his wagon, and if my loud screams had not attracted his attention, I should have been run over also by his brother’s wagon, which followed his.
It was my mother’s death, however, which woke me to full consciousness, if I may so put it. This event made a wound in my heart, which has never to this day been really healed, and even at this moment, though I am now in middle life, I often feel my hungry soul pining and yearning for my mother. “Rodney, you have no mother!” - that was really the first and the ineffaceable impression of my boy’s life.
We were travelling in Hertfordshire when the oldest of the family, a girl, was taken ill. The nearest town was Baldock, and my father at once made for it, so that he might get a doctor for his child. I remember as if it were yesterday that the gipsy wagon stood outside the door of the doctor’s house. My father told him he had a sick daughter. The doctor mounted the steps of the wagon and, leaning over the door, called my sick sister to him and examined her. He did not enter our poor wagon. We were only gipsies. “Your daughter has the small-pox,” he said to my father, “you must get out of the town at once.” He sent us to a bye-lane about one-and-a-half miles away - it is called Norton Lane. In a little bend of this lane, on the left-hand side, between a huge overhanging hawthorn and a wood on the right-hand side, making a natural arch, father erected our tent. There he left mother and four children. He took the wagon two hundred yards farther down the lane, and stood it on the right-hand side near an old chalk pit. From the door he could see the tent clearly and be within call. The wagon was the sickroom and my father was the nurse. In a few days the doctor, coming to the tent, discovered that my brother Ezekiel also had the smallpox, and he too was sent to the wagon, so that my father had now two invalids to nurse. Poor mother used to wander up and down the lane in an almost distracted condition, and my father heard her cry again and again: “My poor children will die, and I am not allowed to go to them!” Mother had to go into Baldock to buy food, and, after preparing it in the tent, carried it halfway from there to the wagon. Then she put it on the ground and waited till my father came for it. She shouted or waved her silk handkerchief to attract his attention. Sometimes he came at once, but at other times he would be busy with the invalids and unable to leave them just at the moment. And then mother went back, leaving the food on the ground, and sometimes before father had reached it, it was covered with snow, for it was the month of March and the weather was severe. And mother, in the anxiety of her loving heart, got every day, I think, a little nearer and nearer to the wagon, until one day she went too near, and then she also fell sick. When the doctor came he said it was the smallpox.
My father was in the uttermost distress. His worst fears were realised. He had hoped to save mother, for he loved her as only a gipsy can love. She was the wife of his youth and the mother of his children. They were both very young when they married, not much over twenty, and they were still very young. He would have died to save her. He had struggled with his calamities bravely for a whole month, nursing his two first-born with whole-hearted love and devotion, and had never had his clothes off, day or night And this he had done in order to save her from the terrible disease. And now she too was smitten. He felt that all hope was gone, and knowing he could not keep us separate any longer, he brought the wagon back to the tent. And there lay mother and sister and brother, all three sick with smallpox. In two or three days a little baby was born.
Mother knew she was dying. Our hands were stretched out to hold her, but they were not strong enough. Other hands, omnipotent and eternal, were taking her from us. Father seemed to realise, too, that she was going. He sat beside her one day and asked her if she thought of God. For the poor gipsies believe in God, and believe that He is good and merciful. And she said, “Yes.”
“Do you try to pray, my dear?”
“Yes, I am trying, and while I am trying to pray it seems as though a black hand comes before me and shows me all that I have done, and something whispers, ‘There is no mercy for you!’”
But my father had great assurance that God would forgive her, and told her about Christ and asked her to look to Him. He died for sinners. He was her Saviour. My father had some time before been in prison for three months on a false charge, and it was there that he had been told what now he tried to teach my mother. After my father had told her all he knew of the Gospel she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Then he went outside, stood behind the wagon, and wept bitterly. When he went back again to see her she looked calmly into his face, and said with a smile: “I want you to promise me one thing. Will you be a good father to my children?” He promised her that he would; at that moment he would have promised her anything. Again he went outside and wept, and while he was weeping he heard her sing -
“I have a Father in the promised land.
My God calls me, I must go
To meet Him in the promised land.”
My father went back to her and said: “Polly, my clear, where did you learn that song?”
She said: “Cornelius, I heard it when I was a little girl. One Sunday my father’s tents were pitched on a village green, and seeing the young people and others going into a little school or church or chapel - I do not know which it was - I followed them in and they sang those words.”
It must have been twenty years or so since my mother had heard the lines. Although she had forgotten them all these years, they came back to her in her moments of intense seeking after God and His salvation. She could not read the Bible, she had never been taught about God and His Son, but these words came back to her in her dying moments and she sang them again and again. Turning to my father, she said, “I am not afraid to die now. I feel that it will be all right. I feel assured that God will take care of my children.”
Father watched her all that Sunday night, and knew she was sinking fast. When Monday morning dawned it found her deep in prayer. I shall never forget that morning. I was only a little fellow, but even now I can close my eyes and see the gipsy tent and wagon in the lane. The fire is burning outside on the ground, and the kettle is hanging over it in true gipsy fashion, and a bucket of water is standing near by. Some clothes that my father has been washing are hanging on the hedge. I can see the old horse grazing along the lane. I can see the boughs bending in the breeze and I can almost hear the singing of the birds, and yet when I try to call back the appearance of my dear mother I am baffled. That dear face that bent over my gipsy cradle and sang lullabies to me, that mother who if she had lived would have been more to me than any other in God’s world - her face has faded clean from my memory. I wandered up the lane that morning with the hand of my sister Tilly in mine. We two little things were inseparable. We could not go to father, for he was too full of his grief. The others were sick. We two had gone off together, when suddenly I heard my name called: “Rodney!” and running to see what I was wanted for, I encountered my sister Emily. She had got out of bed, for bed could not hold her that morning, and she said to me, “Rodney, mother’s dead!” I remember falling on my face in the lane as though I had been shot, and weeping my heart out and saying to myself, “I shall never be like other boys, for I have no mother!” And somehow that feeling has never quite left me, and even now, in my man’s life, there are moments when mother is longed for.
My mother’s death caused a gloom indescribable to settle down upon the tent life. The day of the funeral came. My mother was to be buried at the dead of night. We were only gipsies, and the Authorities would not permit the funeral to take place in the daytime. In the afternoon the coffin was placed on two chairs outside the wagon, waiting for the darkness. Sister and brother were so much better that the wagon had been emptied. My father had been trying to cleanse it, and the clothes, such as we had for wearing and sleeping in, had been put into the tent. While we were watching and weeping round the coffin - father and his five children - the tent caught fire, and all our little stock of worldly possessions was burnt to ashes. The sparks flew around us on all sides of the coffin, and we expected every moment that that too would be set on fire. We poor little things were terrified nearly to death. “Mother will be burnt up,” we wept. “Mother will be burnt up.” Father fell upon his face on the grass crying like a child. The flames were so strong that he could do nothing to stop their progress, and indeed he had to take great care to avoid harm to himself. Our agonies while we were witnessing this, to us, terrible conflagration, helpless to battle against it, may easily be imagined, but strange to relate, while the sparks fell all around the coffin, the coffin itself was untouched.
And now darkness fell, and with it came to us an old farmer’s cart. Mother’s coffin was placed in the vehicle, and between ten and eleven o’clock my father, the only mourner, followed her to the grave by a lantern light. She lies resting in Norton churchyard, near Baldock. When my father came back to us it was midnight, and his grief was very great. He went into a plantation behind his van, and throwing himself on his face, promised God to be good, to take care of his children, and to keep the promise that he had made to his wife. A fortnight after the little baby died and was placed at her mother’s side. If you go to Norton churchyard now and inquire for the gipsies’ graves they will be pointed out to you. My mother and her last-born lie, side by side, in that portion of the graveyard where are interred the remains of the poor, the unknown, and the forsaken.
We remained in that fatal lane a few weeks ‘longer; then the doctor gave us leave to move on, all danger being over. So we took farewell of the place where we had seen so much sorrow.
I venture to think that there are some points of deep spiritual significance in this narrative. First of all, there is the sweet and touching beauty of my father’s endeavour to show my mother, in the midst of his and her ignorance, the way of salvation as far as he was able. My dear father tried to teach her of God. Looking back on that hour he can see clearly in it the hand of God. When he was in prison as a lad, many years before, he heard the Gospel faithfully preached by the chaplain. The sermon had been on the text, “I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” My father was deeply distressed and cried to God to save him, and had there been any one to show him the way of salvation he would assuredly have found peace then.
At the time of my mother’s death too my father was under deep conviction, but there was no light. He could not read, none of his friends could read, and there was no one to whom he could go for instruction and guidance. The actual date of his conversion was some time after this, but my father is convinced, that if he had been shown the way of salvation he would have there and then surrendered his life to God.
Another significant point was this: what was it that brought back to my mother’ s mind in her last hour the lines -
“I have a Father in the promised land.
My God calls me, I must go
To meet Him in the promised land”?
Was it not the Holy Ghost, of whom Christ said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”? (John xiv. 26). My mother had lived in a religious darkness that was all but unbroken during her whole life, but a ray of light had crept into her soul when she was a little girl, by the singing of this hymn. That was a part of the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. No minister ever looked near our gipsy-tent, no missioner, and no Christian worker. To me it is plain that it was the Holy Ghost who brought these things to her remembrance - as plain as the sun that shines, or the flowers that bloom, or the birds that sing. That little child’s song, heard by my mother as she wandered into that little chapel that Sunday afternoon, was brought back to her by the Spirit of God and became a ladder by which she climbed from her ignorance and superstition to the light of God and the many mansions. And my mother is there, and although I cannot recall her face, I shall know it some day.
I became conscious after my mother’s death that I was a real boy, and that I had lost something, which I should never find. Many a day when I have seen my aunts making a great deal of their children, giving them advice and even thrashing them, I have cried for my mother—if it were only to thrash me! It tore my hungry little heart with anguish to stand by and see my cousins made a fuss of. At such times I have had hard work to hide my bitter tears. I have gone up the lane round the corner, or into the field or wood to weep my heart out. In these days, my dreams, longings, and passions frightened me. I would lie awake all night exploring depths in my own being that I but faintly understood, and thinking of my mother. I knew that she had gone beyond the clouds, because my father told me so, and I believed everything that my father told me. I knew he spoke the truth. I used to try to pierce the clouds, and oftentimes I fancied I succeeded, and used to have long talks with my mother, and I often told her that some day I was coming up to her.
One day I went to visit her grave in Norton churchyard. As may be imagined, that quiet spot in the lonely churchyard was sacred to my father and to us, and we came more often to that place than we should have done had it not been that there in the cold earth lay hidden from us a treasure that gold could not buy back. I shall never forget my first visit to that hallowed spot. Our tent was pitched three miles off. My sister Tilly and I - very little things we were - wandered off one day in search of mother’s grave. It was early in the morning when we started. We wandered through fields, jumped two or three ditches, and those we could not jump we waded through. The spire of Norton church was our guiding star. We set our course by it. When we reached the churchyard we went to some little cottages that stood beside it, knocked at the doors and asked the people if they could tell us, which was mother’s grave. We did not think it necessary to say who mother was or who we were. There was but one mother in the world for us. The good people were very kind to us. They wept quiet, gentle tears for the poor gipsy children, because they knew at once from our faces and our clothes that we were gipsies, and they knew what manner of death our mother had died. The grave was pointed out to us. When we found it, Tilly and I stood over it weeping for a long time, and then we gathered primrose and violet roots and planted them on the top. And we stood there long into the afternoon. The women from the cottages gave us food, and then it started to our memory that it was late, and that father would be wondering where we were. So I said, “Tilly, we must go home,” and we both got on our knees beside the grave and kissed it. Then we turned our backs upon it and walked away. When we reached the gates that lead out of the churchyard we looked back again, and I said to Tilly, “I wonder whether we can do anything for mother?” I suddenly remembered that I had with me a gold-headed scarf-pin, which some one had given me. It was the only thing of any value that I ever had as a child. Rushing back to the grave, upon the impulse and inspiration of the moment, I stuck the scarf-pin into the ground as far as I could, and hurrying back to Tilly, I said, “There, I have given my gold pin to my mother!” It was all I had to give. Then we went home to the tents and wagons. Father had missed us and had become very anxious. When he saw us he was glad and also very angry, intending, no doubt, to punish us for going away without telling him, and for staying away too long. He asked us where we had been. We said we had gone to mother’s grave, without a word he turned away and wept bitterly.
A Mischievous Little Boy - With Something About Plums, Trousers, Rabbits, Eggs, And A Circus.
The wild man in my father was broken forever. My mother’s death had wrought a moral revolution in him. As he had promised to her, he drank much less, he swore much less, and he was a good father to us. When my mother died he had made up his mind to be a different man, and as far as was possible in his own strength he had succeeded. But his soul was hungry for he knew not what, and a gnawing dissatisfaction that nothing could appease or gratify was eating out his life.
The worldly position of our household, in the meantime, was comfortable. My father made clothes pegs and all manner of tin ware, and we children sold them. If I may say so, I was the best seller in the family. Sometimes I would get rid of five or six gross of clothes pegs in a day. I was not at all bashful or backward, and I think I may say I was a good businessman in those days. I used so to keep on at the good women till they bought my pegs just to get rid of me. “Bother the boy,” they would say, “there is no getting rid of him!” And I would say, “Come now, madam, here you have the best pegs in the market. They will not eat, and will not wear clothes out; they will not cry, and they will not wake you up in the middle of the night!” Then they would laugh, and I used to tell them who I was, and that I had no mother. This softened their hearts. Sometimes I sold my pegs wholesale to the retail sellers. I was a wholesale and a retail merchant.
I got into trouble, however, at Cambridge. I was trying to sell my goods at a house there. It chanced to be a policeman’s house. I was ten or eleven years of age, too young to have a selling licence, and the policeman marched me off to the police court. I was tried for selling goods without a licence. I was called upon to address the court in my defence. And I said something like this: “Gentlemen, it is true I have no licence. You will not let me have a licence, I am too young. I am engaged in an honest trade. I do not steal. I sell my clothes pegs to help my father to make an honest living for himself and us children. If you will give me a licence my father is quite willing to pay for it, but if you will not, I do not see why I should be prevented from doing honest work for my living.” This argument carried weight. My ingenuousness impressed the court and I was let off with a small fine.
I think I can tell some amusing things about these days. My dress consisted of an overall (and an underall too), a smock-frock of the sort that is still worn in the Eastern Counties. When I took this off, I was ready for bed. The frock had some advantages. It had pockets, which it took a great deal to fill. They were out of sight, and no one could very well know what was in them. One day I was up a tree, a tree that bore delicious Victoria plums. I had filled my pockets with them, and I had one in my mouth. I was in a very happy frame of mind, when lo! at the foot of the tree appears the owner of the land. He gave me a very pressing invitation to come down. At once I swallowed the plum in my mouth, in case he should think that I was after his plums. He repeated his pressing invitation to come DOWN.
“What do you want, sir?” I asked in the most bland and innocent tones, as if I had never known the taste of plums.
“If you come down,” he said, “I will tell you.”
I am not used to climbing up or climbing down, but I had to come down because I could not stay even up a plum tree forever, and my friend showed no disposition to go. He said, “I will wait until you are ready,” and I did not thank him for his courtesy. I did not make haste to come down; neither did I do it very joyfully. When I got to the foot of the tree my friend got me by the right ear. There was a great deal of congratulation in his grip.
He pulled me over rapidly and unceremoniously to another tree.
“Do you see that tree?” he said.
“Do you see that board?”
“Can you read it?”
“Well, I will read it for you: ‘Whosoever is found trespassing on this ground will be prosecuted according to law.’ “
Since that day I have never wanted anybody to explain to me what “whosoever” means. This memorable occasion fixed the meaning of the word on my mind forever. The irate owner shook me hard. And I tried to cry, but I could not, when I told him that I had no mother, and I thought that touched him, although he knew it, for he knew my father. Indeed, that saved me. He looked at me again and shook me hard. “If it were not for your father,” he said, “I would send you to prison.” For wherever my father was known in his unconverted days, by farmer, policeman, or gamekeeper, he was held in universal respect. At last he let me off with a caution. He threw an old boot at me, but he forgot to take his foot out of it. But I was quite happy, for my pockets were full of plums. I dared not say anything about it to my father. My father would have been very angry with me, because, even in his wild days, he would not allow this sort of thing in his children if he knew. Then there were farmers who were kind to us, very, and we had to be specially careful what we did and where we went If our tent was pitched near their places, my father would say to us, “I do not want you to go far from the wagons to-day” and we knew at once what that meant.
My father was a very fatherly man. He did not believe in sparing the rod, or spoiling the child. He was fond of taking me on his knees with my face downwards. When he made an engagement with me he kept it. He never broke one. He sometimes almost broke me. If a thrashing was due, one might keep out of fathers reach all day, but this merely deferred the punishment; there was no escaping him at bedtime, because we all slept on the floor, the first. Sometimes he would send me for a stick to be thrashed with. In that case I always brought either the smallest or the biggest - the smallest because I knew that it could not do much harm, or the largest because I knew my father would lay it on very lightly. Once or twice I managed to get out of a thrashing in this way. One was due to me in the evening. In the afternoon I would say to him, “Daddy, shall I go and gather a bundle of sticks for your fire?” and he would say, “Yes Rodney.” Then when I brought them to him I would hand him one, and he would say, “What is this for?” “Why, that is for my thrashing” I would answer. And sometimes he would let me off and sometimes he would not. Occasionally, too, I used to plead, “I know mother is not far behind the clouds, and she is looking down on you, and she will see if you hit me very hard.” Sometimes, that helped me to escape, and sometimes it did not. But this I will say for my father: he never thrashed me in a temper, and I am quite sure now that I deserved my thrashings, and that they all did me good.
As I grew older I became ambitious of something better and greater than a smock-frock, namely, a pair of trousers. My father did not give an enthusiastic encouragement to that ambition, but he told me that if I was a good boy I should have a pair of his. And I was a good boy. My father in those days stood nearly six feet high, was broad in proportion, and weighed fifteen stone. I was very small and very thin as a child, but I was bent on having a pair of trousers. My father took an old pair of his and cut them off at the knees, but even then, of course, they had to be tucked up. I was a proud boy that day. I took my trousers behind the hedge, so that I might put them on in strict privacy. My father and brother, enjoying the fun, although I did not see it, waited for me on the other side of the hedge. When I emerged they both began to chaff me. “Rodney,” said my brother, “are you going or coming ?” He brought me a piece of string and said, “What time does the balloon go up?” And in truth, when the wind blew, I wanted to be pegged down. I did not like the fun, but I kept my trousers. I saw my father’s dodge. He wanted me to get disgusted with them and to go back to the smock-frock; but I knew that if I went on wearing them he would soon get tired of seeing me in these extraordinary garments and would buy me a proper pair.
A day came when we were the guests of the Prince of Wales at Sandringham; that is, we pitched our tents on his estate. One day I helped to catch some rabbits, and these trousers turned out to be very useful. In fact, immediately the rabbits were caught, the trousers became a pair of fur-lined garments, for I carried them home inside the trousers.
At length my father bought me a pair of brand-new corduroys that just fitted me, but I was soon doomed to trouble with these trousers. One day I found a hen camping out in a ditch, and there was quite a nest full of eggs there. I was very indignant with that hen for straying so far from the farmyard. I considered that her proceedings were irregular and unauthorised. As to the eggs, the position to me was quite clear. I had found them. I had not gone into the farmyard and pilfered them. On the other hand, they had put themselves in my way, and I naturally thought they were mine, and so I filled my pockets with them. I was sorry that I had to leave some of these eggs, but I could not help it. The capacity of my pockets in my new trousers was less generous than in the old ones. My next difficulty was how to get out of the ditch without breaking any of the eggs. But I was a youngster of resource and managed it. And now I had to take my way across a ploughed field. This meant some very delicate pedestrian work. Then I heard a man shout, and I thought that he wanted me, but I did not desire to give him an interview. So I ran, and as I ran I fell; and when I fell the eggs all cracked. I got up, and, looking round, saw nobody. The man whom I thought was pursuing me was only shouting to a man in another field. It is truly written, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” I thought I had found these eggs, but my conscience found me. I have never found eggs again from that day to this.
One other episode of my childish days will I inflict upon my readers. It was the time of the Cambridge Fair, and our wagons were standing on the fair ground. The fun of the fair included a huge circus - Sanger’s, I think it was. In front of the door stood the clown, whom it was the custom among us to call “Pinafore-Billy.” This is the man who comes out and dilates on the wonders and merits of the performance, tells the people that the show is just about to begin, and invites them to step in. My highest ambition as a boy was to become a Pinafore-Billy. I thought that that position was the very height of human glory, and I would have done anything and taken any trouble to get it. Now I wanted to get into the circus and I had no money. A man was walking round the show with a long whip in his hand driving boys off, in case they should attempt to slip in under the canvas. I went up to this whip-man and offered to help him. He was very scornful, and said, “What can you do?” I said, “I will do what I can; I will help to keep the boys off.” So he said, “Very well; what will you do?” I answered, “You go round one way and I will go the other.” It was agreed, but as soon as he started to do his half of the round and turned his back on me, and had got round the tent, I slipped under the canvas. I thought by doing so I should at once be in the right part of the circus for seeing the show, but instead of that I found myself in a sort of dark, dismal part underneath the raised seats of the circus. This was where the horses were kept. I saw at once I was in a fix, and to my horror I perceived a policeman walking round inside and coming towards me. I was at my wits’ end; but luckily I perceived some harness lying about, and seizing a loose cloth close at hand, I began to polish the harness vigorously. When the policeman did come up to me he said, “My boy, that is a curious job they have given you to do in such a place as this.” “It is very hard work,” I said, and went on polishing as vigorously as ever, never looking up at the policeman’s face. I was afraid to, for I knew that my looks would betray my guilt. Then the policeman went on. I really do not know how I made my way into the circus. However, I found myself sitting among the best seats of the house, and I am sure that I attracted great attention, for here was I, a poor little gipsy boy, dressed in corduroys and velvets, sitting among all the swells. I was not long in peace. My conscience at once began to say to me, “How will you get out? You dare not go out by the door in case you meet the whip-man that you offered to help.” I felt myself to be a thief and a robber. I had not come in at the door, but I had climbed tip some other way. I do not remember quite how I got out of this terrible dilemma, but I know that I escaped without suffering, and was glad indeed to find myself outside again with very a whole skin.
These are the worst of the sins that I have to confess. My boyhood’s days were on the whole very innocent. I did not drink or swear. I am afraid, however, that I told lies many a time. I had no opportunity for cultivating bad habits, for all the companions I had were my sisters and my brother and so I was kept from serious sin by the narrowness and the limitations of my circumstances.
Perhaps this is a fit place to say a few words about the morals of the gipsies. I want to say at once that the character of my people stands very high. I never knew of a gipsy girl who went astray. I do not say that that never happened, but that I never knew a fallen woman in a gipsy-tent. The gipsy boy is told from his earliest days that he must honour and protect women. He drinks in this teaching, so to say, with his mother’s milk, and he grows up to be very courteous and very chivalrous.
The gipsy sweethearts do their courting in the daytime, and where they can be seen by their parents. The gorgio sweethearts would probably find these conditions rather trying. Gipsy sweethearts do not go out for walks by the light of the moon, neither do they betake themselves to nooks and corners out of sight and out of reach of everybody. All the sweet things the gipsy man says to the gipsy maid must be uttered, if not in the hearing of their parents, at least in their sight.
My brother Ezekiel and his wife were sweethearts from childhood. One day, when they were approaching the estate of manhood and womanhood, Ezekiel was sitting talking to his girl in the presence of her mother. “I know,” said Ezekiel’s prospective mother-in-law, “that you young people want a walk. You shall have one. I will go with you.” And this is the kind of thing, which occurs invariably during gipsy courtships.
Sweethearts would never think of going off alone for a little walk, yet the gipsies find this no bar to pleasant and successful courting. The result of these customs is that gipsy courtships are not marred by untoward and unpleasant incidents. The hearts of the young men and young women are pure, and this purity is guarded by their parents like gold. The gipsy men, indeed, pride themselves on the purity of their women, and that says a great deal for the men. Practically all gipsies get married. There are very few old maids and old bachelors. The gipsy husband and wife live on the most intimate terms. The wife knows all that her husband knows. I would not say that a gipsy husband knows all that his wife knows, any more than a gorgio husband knows all that his wife knows. They usually have large families. There is no more groundless slander than the statement that gipsies steal children. They have every reason for not so doing. They have plenty of their own. My great-uncle was the father of thirty-one children, and a brother of my father’s was the father of twenty four, I think. I have never heard that they sought to add to their number by theft.
The young gipsy couple start their married life by purchasing a wagon. This costs anywhere from £40 to £150, and is obtained from a gorgio wagon-builder. Oddly enough, the gipsies never learn the trade of making their own wagons. The wagons are very warm and very strong, and last a great many years. The young husband is, of course, the manufacturer of the goods, and his wife the seller. When she leaves the wagon in the morning to go her rounds she arranges with her husband where the wagon shall be placed at night and thither she betakes herself when her day’s toil is over. In the course of the day she may have walked from fifteen to twenty miles. Gipsies have plenty of exercise and a sufficiency of food. This explains their very good health. If the husband has been refused permission to stand his wagon on the arranged spot and has had to move on, he lets his wife know where he is going by leaving behind him a track of grass.
Gipsies are very lovable and very loyal to one another. They are respectful and even reverential to old age. I never knew of a gipsy who ended his or her days in the workhouse. The gipsy young man would rather work the flesh off his fingers than tolerate any such thing. They would feel ashamed to abandon those who had done so much for them.
The gipsies do not hate the gorgios, but they feel that they are suspected and mistrusted, and that everybody is afraid of them. They feel that all gorgios are against them, and therefore they are against the gorgios. If a kindness is done them by a gorgio they never cease to talk about it. They remember it all their days and their children are told of it too. Quite recently a curious illustration of this trait came to my knowledge. I was travelling from Cambridge to Thetford, and had as my companion a clergyman of the Church of England. “Some years ago,” he said to me, “a gipsy family came to my parish. The father was ill, and I went to see him. I read to him, I prayed with him, and my wife brought him some nourishing soup. This poor man became a sincere seeker after Christ, and I have every reason to believe he was converted. I followed up my friendship with him. When he left the parish and went a few miles further away I kept in touch with him, and wrote to a brother clergyman and arranged with him to follow up what I had tried to do for this dying man. This he gladly did, and the man passed away happy in the knowledge of sins forgiven. Two or three years after I was driving out of Norwich when I met two young gipsy fellows with a donkey which they were going into Norwich to sell. I was in need of a donkey, so I got down and began to talk to them. I questioned them about the donkey. They said it was a very good one, and from its appearance I thought so too. Then we went on to discuss the price. I finally decided to purchase the donkey. I had some further conversation with them, telling them where to take the donkey, and when I would be home to pay for the same. In the meantime I observed with somewhat of alarm that these two young fellows were exchanging curious glances. We were about to fix up the bargain, when one of them said to me, “Are you Mr. So-and-so?” “Yes, I am.” “Oh, well, sir, we have heard of your great kindness to poor So-and-so when he was dying, and we cannot sell you this donkey: it is a bad one ; we could not take you in; but if you will let us we will get you a good donkey, a genuine, good article.” And they got me a fine animal which has done a good deal of work, which I still have, and have been delighted with.”
The gipsies are naturally musical. In fact, I believe that the only naturally musical people in the world are the Jews and gipsies, and this is another point of affinity between the two races. The gipsies love to dance in the lanes to the music of the harp, the dulcimer, and violin. They do not object to the gorgios looking on, but they would rather they did not join in the merriment. They like to live their own life with absolute freedom and without interference.
But, alas! there is a debit side to this moral balance account. The gipsies drink a good deal. Beer is their beverage. Spirits as a rule they take sparingly. They do not drink for the mere sake of drinking, but only when they meet friends. Their drinking is an unfortunate outcome of their highly social dispositions. They may be abstemious for days, weeks, and even months, but when they begin to drink they go in for it thoroughly. Cans and bottles do not satisfy them. Buckets are what they need; and the spree sometimes lasts for nearly a week. Gipsy women, however, are abstemious. I have only known one who was really a drunkard. And then gipsies swear, some of them, indeed, fearfully. They do not lie to each other, but to the gorgios. They are paid to lie, to tell fortunes. This vile business, which has really been forced upon them by the gorgios, utterly debauches the consciences of the gipsies. And I should like all our educated women to know that every time they pay a gipsy woman to tell their fortune they make it the more difficult for that woman to become a Christian. The gipsies too are pilferers. They do not commit big robberies. They do not steal horses or break into banks, nor do they commit highway robberies, or find a few thousands, or fail for a few. But they take potatoes from a field or fruit from an orchard - only what is sufficient for their immediate needs. The potatoes they take from a field are only those they need until they get to the next potato field. Sometimes, too, late at night, they will put five or six horses into a field to feed and take them out early in the morning. They are also in the habit of finding young undergrowth stuff that they use for their clothes-pegs and baskets. Most of them never dream there is any sin or wrong in such actions. They regard them merely as natural, ordinary commonplace events in their daily lives.
To return to the story of my own life. I have said that the gipsies are very musical, and my father was a good illustration of this statement. He was a very good fiddler - by ear, of course. He tells a story of the days when he was learning to play in his mother’s tent. Dear old lady, she got tired of the noise the boy was making, and she told him to stop. As he did not stop, she said, “If you don’t I will blow out the candle.” This she did. That of course made no difference to the young musician; he went on playing, and grannie said, “I never saw such a boy; he can play in the dark!” For years my father had greatly added to his ordinary earnings by fiddling to the dancers in the public houses at Baldock, Cambridge, Ashwell, Royston, Bury St. Edmunds and elsewhere. Even after my mother’s death, though his fiddling led him into great temptations, my father continued this practice, and he sometimes took me with him. When he fiddled I danced. I was a very good dancer, and at a certain point in the evening’s proceedings my father would say, “Now, Rodney, make the collection,” and I went round with the hat. That is where I graduated for the ministry. If ever my father took more drink than was good for him, with the result that he did not know whether he was drawing the bow across the first string or the second, I went round again with my cap. What I collected that time I regarded as my share of the profits, for I was a member of the firm of Smith and Son, and not a sleeping partner either. How delighted I was if I got a few coppers to show to my sisters! These visits with my father to the beer-shop were very frequent, and as I think of those days, when I was forced to listen to the vile jokes and vulgar expressions of the common labourers, I marvel at the grace which shielded me and prevented me from understanding what was being said.
All this time, while my father was living this life of fiddling and drinking and sinning, he was under the deepest conviction. He always said his prayers night and morning and asked God to give him power over drink, but every time temptation came in his way he fell before it. He was like the chaff driven before the wind. He hated himself afterwards because he had been so easily overcome. He was so concerned about his soul that he could rest nowhere. If he had been able to read the Word of God, I feel sure, and he, looking back on those days, feels sure, that he would have found the way of life. His sister and her husband, who had no children, came to travel with us. She could struggle her way through a little of the New Testament, and used to read to my father about the sufferings of Christ and His death upon the tree for sinful men. She told my father it was the sins of the people, which nailed Him there, and he often felt in his heart that he was one of them. She was deeply moved when he wept and said, “Oh, how cruel to serve Him so!” I have seen father when we children were in bed at night, and supposed to be asleep, sitting over the fire, the flame from which was the only light. As it leapt up into the darkness it showed us a sad picture. There was father, with tears falling like bubbles on mountain streams as he talked to himself about mother and his promise to her to be good. He would say to himself aloud, “I do not know how to be good,” and laying his hand upon his heart he would say, “I wonder when I shall get this want satisfied, this burden removed?” When father was in this condition there was no sleep for us children. We lay awake listening, not daring to speak, and shedding bitter tears. Many a time I have said the next morning to my sisters and my brother, “We have no mother and we shall soon have no father.” We thought he was going out of his mind. We did not understand the want or the burden. It was all quite foreign to us. My father remained in this sleepless, convicted condition for a long time, but the hour of his deliverance was at hand.
“Long in darkness we had waited
For the shining of the light:
Long have felt the things we hated
Sink us into deeper night.”
One morning we had left Luton behind us. My eldest sister was in the town selling her goods, and my father had arranged to wait for her on the roadside with our wagon. When our wagon stopped my father sat on the steps, wistfully looking towards the town against the time of his daughter’s return, and thinking, no doubt, as he always was, of my mother and his unrest. Presently he saw two gipsy wagons coming towards him and when they got near he discovered to his great delight that they belonged to his brothers Woodlock and Bartholomew. Well do I remember that meeting? My father was the oldest of the three, and although he was such a big man he was the least in stature. The brothers were as surprised and delighted to meet my father as he was to meet them. They fell on each other’s necks and wept. My father told them of his great loss, and they tried to sympathise with him, and the wives of the two brothers did their best to comfort us motherless children. The two wagons of my uncles faced my father’s, but on the opposite side of the road. The three men sat on the bank holding sweet fellowship together, and the two wives and the children of the three families gathered around them. Soon my father was talking about the condition of his soul. Said he to Woodlock and Bartholomew, “Brothers, I have a great burden that I must get removed. A hunger is gnawing at my heart. I can neither eat, drink, nor sleep. If I do not get this want satisfied I shall die!” And then the brothers said, “Cornelius, we feel just the same. We have talked about this to each other for weeks.”
Though these three men had been far apart, God had been dealing with them at the same time and in the same way. Among the marvellous dispensations of Providence, which have come within my own knowledge, this is one of the most wonderful. These men were all hungry for the truth. They could not read and so knew nothing of the Bible. They had never been taught, and they knew very little of Jesus Christ. The light that had crept into their souls was “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” “He, the Spirit, will reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.”
As the brothers talked they felt how sweet it would be to go to God’s house and learn of Him, for they had all got tired of their roaming life. My father was on the way to London, and fully resolved to go to a church and find out what it was his soul needed. The three brothers agreed to go together, and arranged to take in Cambridge by the way. They drove their wagon to the Barnwell end of the town, where there was a beer-shop. The three great big simple men went in and told the landlady how they felt. It is not often, I feel sure, that part of a work of grace is carried on in a beer-shop, and with the landlady thereof as an instrument in this Divine work. But God had been dealing with the landlady of this beer-house. When the brothers spoke to her she began to weep, and said, “I am somewhat in your case, and I have a book upstairs that will just suit you, for it makes me cry every time I read it.” She brought the book down and lent it to the brothers to read. They went into the road to look after their horses. A young man who came out of the public house offered to read from the book to them. It was “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” When he got to the point where Pilgrim’s burden drops off as he looks at the cross, Bartholomew rose from his seat by the wayside and excitedly walking up and down, cried, “That is what I want, my burden removed. If God does not save me I shall die!” All the brothers at that moment felt the smart of sin, and wept like little children.
On the Sunday the three brothers went to the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Fitzroy Street, Cambridge, three times. In the evening the Rev. Henry Gunns preached. Speaking of that service, my father says: “His points were very cutting to my soul. He seemed to aim directly at me. I tried to hide myself behind a pillar in the chapel, but he, looking and pointing in that direction, said, “He died for thee!” The anxious ones were asked to come forward, and in the prayer-meeting the preacher came to where I was sitting and asked me if I was saved. I cried out, “No; that is what I want.” He tried to show me that Christ had paid my debt, but the enemy of souls had blinded my eyes and made me believe that I must feel it and then believe it, instead of receiving Christ by faith first. I went from that house of prayer still a convicted sinner, but not a converted one.”
We now resumed our way to London, and had reached Epping Forest when darkness came on. My father put his horse in somebody’s field, intending, of course, to avoid detection of this wrongdoing by coming for it early in the morning. That night he dreamed a dream. In the dream he was travelling through a rugged country over rocks and boulders, thorns and briars. His hands were bleeding and his feet torn. Utterly exhausted and worn out, he fell to the ground. A person in white raiment appeared to him, and as this person lifted up his hands my father saw the mark of the nails, and then he knew it was the Lord. The figure in white said to my father, showing him His hands, “I suffered this for you, and when you give up all and trust Me I will save you.” Then my father awoke. This dream shows how much the reading of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” had impressed him. He narrated the dream at the breakfast table on the following morning. When he went to fetch his horses his tender conscience told him very clearly and very pointedly that he had done wrong. As he removed the horses from the field and closed the gate he placed his hand on it and, summoning up all his resolution, said, “That shall be the last known sin I will ever wilfully commit.”
My father was now terribly in earnest. There were a great many gipsies encamped in the forest at the time, including his father and mother, brothers and sisters. My father told them that he had done with the roaming and wrongdoing, and that he meant to turn to God. They looked at him and wept. Then my father and his brothers moved their vans to Shepherd’s Bush, and placed them on a piece of building land close to Mr. Henry Varley’s Chapel. My father sold his horse, being determined not to move from that place until he had found the way to God. Says my father “I meant to find Christ if He was to be found. I could think of nothing else but Him. I believed His blood was shed for me.” Then my father prayed that God would direct him to some place where he might learn the way to heaven, and his prayer was answered. One morning he went out searching as usual for the way to God. He met a man mending the road, and began to talk with him - about the weather, the neighbourhood, and such-like things. The man was kindly and sympathetic, and my father became more communicative. The man, as the good providence of God would have it, was a Christian, and said to my father, “I know what you want; you want to be converted.” “I do not know anything about that,” said my father, “but I want Christ, and I am resolved to find Him.” “Well,” said the workingman “there is a meeting tonight in a mission hall in Latimer Road, and I shall come for you and take you there.” In the evening the road-mender came and carried off my father and his brother Bartholomew to the mission hall. Before leaving, my father said to us, “Children, I shall not come home again until I am converted,” and I shouted to him, “Daddy, who is he?” I did not know who this Converted was. I thought my father was going off his head, and resolved to follow him. The Mission Hall was crowded. My father marched right up to the front. I never knew him look so determined. The people were singing the well-known hymn –
“There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.”
The refrain was, “ I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me.” As they were singing, my father’s mind seemed to be taken away from everybody and everything. “It seemed,” he said, “as if I was bound in a chain and they were drawing me up to the ceiling.” In the agony of his soul he fell on the floor unconscious, and lay there wallowing and foaming for half an hour. I was in great distress, and thought my father was dead, and shouted out, “Oh dear, our father is dead!” But presently he came to himself, stood up and, leaping joyfully, exclaimed, “I am converted!” He has often spoken of that great change since. He walked about the hall looking at his flesh. It did not seem to be all quite the same colour to him. His burden was gone, and he told the people that he felt so light that if the room had been full of eggs he could have walked through and not have broken one of them.
I did not stay to witness the rest of the proceedings. As soon as I heard my father say, “I am converted,” I muttered to myself, “Father is converted; I am off home.” I was still in utter ignorance of what the great transaction might mean.
When my father got home to the wagon that night he gathered us all around him. I saw at once that the old haggard look that his face had worn for years was now gone, and, indeed, it was gone for ever. His noble countenance was lit up with something of that light that breaks over the cliff-tops of eternity. I said to myself in wonderment, “What marvellous words these are – ‘I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me.’” My father’s brother Bartholomew was also converted that evening, and the two stopped long enough to learn the chorus, and they sang it all the way home through the streets. Father sat down in the wagon, as tender and gentle as a little child. He called his motherless children to him one by one, beginning with the youngest, my sister Tilly. “Do not be afraid of me, my dears. God has sent home your father a new creature and a new man.” He put his arms as far round the five of us as they would go, kissing us all, and before we could understand what had happened he fell on his knees and began to pray. Never will my brother, sisters, and I forget that first prayer. I still feel its sacred influence on my heart and soul; in storm and sunshine, life and death, I expect to feel the benediction of that first prayer. There was no sleep for any of us that night. Father was singing, “I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me,” and we soon learnt it too. Morning, when it dawned, found my father full of this new life and this new joy. He again prayed with his children, asking God to save them, and while he was praying God told him he must go to the other gipsies that were encamped on the same piece of land, in all about twenty families. Forthwith he began to sing in the midst of them, and told them what God had done for him. Many of them wept. Turning towards his brother Bartholomew’s van he saw him and his wife on their knees. The wife was praying to God for mercy, and God saved her then and there. The two brothers, Bartholomew and my father, then commenced a prayer meeting in one of the tents, and my brother and eldest sister were brought to God. In all thirteen gipsies professed to find Christ that morning.