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“Gypsy gypsy joker/get a red-hot poker.”
“Rags an' tags.”
“Clothes-pegs. Who'll buy my clothes-pegs?” -- only they said “cloes-pegs.”
“Who'll buy my flowers?” -- only they said “flahrs.”
“If anyone,” said the teacher, Mrs. Blount, in the classroom, “any one,” and her eyes looked sternly along the lines of tables filled with boys and girls, “teases or bullies or jeers at Kizzy Lovell, they will answer for it to me.”
Twenty-eight pairs of eyes looked back at Mrs. Blount blandly and innocently: “As if we would,” they seemed to say. The twenty-ninth pair, Kizzy's, looked down at her table; she had a curious burning in her ears.
“To me,” said Mrs. Blount. “We shall not have such behaviour in this school.” But they would; silent and small, Kizzy knew that.
“Kizzy must be short for something.” Mrs. Blount had asked her, “What is your real name, dear?”
Mrs. Blount had touched a sore spot; in Kizzy's family, as in some gypsy clans, a child is given three names: a secret one whispered by its mother the moment it is born and, when it is grown, whispered again into the child's ear; a private or “wagon” name which is used only by its own people; and a third open name by which it is known to the world. Kizzy seemed to have only one, but that was because she was what they called her, a “diddakoi,” not all gypsy. “We don't say gypsies now. We say travellers,” Mrs. Blount told the children. Kizzy's father, pure rom, had married an Irish girl, but Kizzy looked gypsy to the children and they were half fascinated, half repelled by herbrownness and the little gold rings in her ears -- none of the other girls had golden earrings. There was one boy Kizzy liked, big Clem Oliver. “I thought gypsies had black eyes,” said Clem Oliver. “Yours are dark dark brown. They're nice -- and these are pretty.” He touched the gold rings and Kizzy glowed and, “My Gran has gold sov'reigns for her earrings,” she told Clem.
“Never seen sov'reigns,” said Clem in awe. Clem made Kizzy feel bigger, not small and frightened, big and warm, thought Kizzy. Clem, though, was in an older class, she only saw him at break times, and the others teased. “More than teased,” said Mrs. Blount.
“But, Mildred, if you forbid people to do something, doesn't it usually make them want to do it even more?” asked Miss Olivia Brooke. Pretty Mrs. Blount -- Mildred -- and her husband, the young Welfare Officer, Mr. Blount, who had brought Kizzy to school, were lodging with Miss Brooke in the village until their own new house was built and had told her about Kizzy. “Doesn't it?” asked Miss Brooke.
“These are children.”
“Children are people, Mildred.”
“Well, what would you have done?” Mrs. Blount's voice was high; she did not like being told about children; after all, she was college trained.
“Could you, perhaps, have interested them in the little girl? Made her romantic. Gypsies -- ”“Travellers,” corrected Mrs. Blount.
“I like the old name. Gypsies have a romantic side. If, perhaps, you had told them stories . . .” But Mrs. Blount said she preferred to use her own methods and, “I want you to give me your promise,” she told the class, “that there will be no more teasing of Kizzy,” and she even asked them, child by child, “Do you promise?”
“Mary Jo, do you promise?”
“Yes, Mrs. Blount.”
“Prudence Cuthbert, do you?”
“Yes, Mrs. Blount,” said Prue.
“Yes, Mrs. Blount. . . . Yes, Mrs. Blount,” the answers came back, glib and meek -- what Mrs. Blount did not know was that every girl said it with her fingers crossed. Kizzy saw that from her seat at the back of the room and knew, as soon as Mrs. Blount was out of the way, it would start again. “Tinker . . . diddakoi . . . gypsy joker . . . clothes-pegs . . . old clothes . . .”
Kizzy had come to school in new clothes, or thought she had. Unlike traveller men, who often order fancy suits, traveller women seldom buy new clothes from shops; they make them or beg them or buy them at country jumble sales, but hers had looked to Kizzy brand-new; she loved the tartan skirt and red jersey, the school blue blazer all of them wore, white socks, but, “Wearing Prue Cuthbert's clothes,” the girls jeered.
“They're mine,” said Kizzy.
“Now. They were Prue's. Prue's mum gave them for you.” Prudence Cuthbert was the worst of the girls, and that night Kizzy had put the clothes down a hollow in one of the old apple trees in the orchard, a hollow full of dead leaves and water. Her grandmother had lammed her but Kizzy did not care; no one could wear them after that, and next day she wore her own clothes for school. It had never occurred to her, or her Gran, that they were peculiar clothes, but they looked most peculiar in class, a limp strawberry-pink cotton dress too long for her -- her vest showed at the top -- a brown cardigan that had belonged to a boy larger than Kizzy, but if she pushed the sleeves up it was not much too big; some of the buttons had come off, but Gran had found two large safety-pins; Kizzy wore gum boots over bare legs -- she had washed the boots, not her legs, but mud still clung to them.
“Where's your coat?” asked Mrs. Blount...
Gypsy Girl. Copyright © by Rumer Godden. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.