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Mrs Henry

Anne-Marie Ford    -    4 February 2017

This story continues from last month’s edited version of material written by an unknown American in 1912, and records a meeting with a Gypsy family of Stanleys camped close to Providence, Rhode Island, in 1886. The bookplate reads “Ex Libris R.A. Scott Macfie, presented by the Gypsy Lore Society” and the full article can be found in the Liverpool University Special Collections, reference SMGC3/4, B.4.8.

Two or three days after taking tea with Richard and Patience Stanley at their campsite,” the narrator recalls that “Mr Stanley appeared at my house. Richard’s family were in trouble, for, as he said, “my sister-in-law, Henry’s wife, has been arrested by that cursed policeman for fortune-telling and he’s taken her up to the magistrate in the city.  She and the baby have gone in the waggon with Henry and the officer.”

The two men followed the party to the court building, and meeting an acquaintance of the writer on the way and ascertaining that the justice was a friend of his, they asked him to join them, so that he could to put in a good word for Mrs. Henry.

At the court house the magistrate treated those present to “a short homily on the evils of a vagrant life,” adding that Mrs. Henry was “a disorderly person” by reason of indulging in fortune-telling.  The penalty for this crime, it seemed, was three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $500.  However, on this occasion, bearing in mind those who spoke for her, and her small child, which Mrs. Henry was at present still nursing, he had decided to dismiss the case.  

Following this satisfactory result the magistrate called the narrator to the bench, merely to enquire whether fortune-telling and clairvoyance had any validity.  He was wondering, in fact, if some valuable papers he had recently lost could be located through such special powers!  Clearly amused by this turn of events, the narrator advises him “I can recommend very highly the prisoner, and still more her sister-in-law, who told my fortune of late in a most impressive manner, and I have already noticed some of her predictions being fulfilled.”  Let us hope it turned out well for all concerned.

It was nearly a week before the writer saw the family again, and Mrs Patience was just returning from Providence; with her was Thomas Stanley, her husband’s father, and his grandson, Joshua, a small, dark boy of four or five.

Is Thomas the son of Joshua and Rhoda Stanley, married to a Bessie/Betsy, probably a Cooper, who was baptised in Hampshire in 1808? This would make him about 78 years of age at the time of the narrative. The name of a grandson, Joshua, might suggest this, as well as the use of the names Henry and Richard for two of his sons, names that were also those of Thomas’s siblings, born to Joshua and Rhoda. It is tempting to think this might be the case. 

Thomas obviously struck the narrator as a significant personage, he recounts that he was a short, very thick-set old gentleman, with his nose smashed flat to his face by the kick of a horse in his youth.  He wore a long, double-breasted waistcoat, nearly reaching his knees, and ornamented with a double row of buttons constructed of English shillings, and with the initials T.S. engraved on the smooth surface of each.  The pockets were embellished with huge flaps, and from one of them hung a silver watch-chain.  Around his neck was wound a gaudy handkerchief, and his appearance was quite as striking in its way as that of Mrs. Patience.

The narrator insists that the brothers and their wives greatly magnified the service he had done them with the magistrate, admitting that old Thomas returned me thanks as well.  Mrs Patience said she would send home by me to my wife a large, green parrot and cage that she had, recommending the “chiriclo” very highly as likely to become a fine talker before long.

The Gypsies continued in the neighbourhood and the author paid frequent visits, recording how pleased he was that “the children all know and greet me,” adding that, “the pretty young Bessie has found her tongue, and at a recent interview confided to me that she wanted to begin ‘dukkerin,’ but her mother wouldn’t let her, ‘though I can tell them lies as well as anyone!’ ”

Old Thomas, too, remained for some time, along with little Joshua.  He and his family were successful horse dealers in Providence, for as Patience had once confided, “Richard has his father and two brothers there, and they have a very fine stable. They deal in horses and they sell a cartload every week and are very much thought of.”

Just like Gorgio grandfathers, the narrator noted, Thomas was very indulgent with his sons’ children, although Richard complained Thomas had been very hard on both him and his siblings when they were young.

“You see how the poor dadus pets the young uns?  Well, when me and my brothers was little fellows, aye, and till we got married, he’d flog us any time almost for nothing, and especially for going out o’nights.  He said that if we went out nights we were sure to get into bad company, and if we made free of bad company it would bring us to trouble.  Up till I was a man growed I was afraid of the ‘oss whip if I wasn’t in by nine of a night.  Now father don’t want us to punish none of the children, no matter how much they deserves it!”  

Richard declared that he often teased his father about this, reminding him “you’d have skinned me or Henry for things you only laugh at Joshua or Dickey for,” but added that he thought it was because his father was “gettin’ old like, you see.”

The story concludes on this website next month, with the narrator’s attendance at a Gypsy feast . . .

Copyright © 2017 Anne-Marie Ford