The Lubbeny Kiss
by Louise Rice
From Ainslee's Magazine
For many hours the hot July sun had beaten down upon the upland
meadows and the pine woods of the lower New Jersey hills. So, when the
dew began to fall, there arose from them a heady brew, distilled from
blossoming milkweed and fruiting wild raspberry canes and mountain
laurel and dried pine needles.
The Princess Dora Parse took this perfume into her lusty young lungs
and blew it out again in a long sigh, after which she bent her first
finger over her thumb as one must when one returns what all Romanys
know to be “the breath of God.” She did this almost unconsciously, for
all her faculties were busied in another matter.
The eyes of a gorgio, weakened by an indoor life, would never have
been able to distinguish the small object for which the princess
looked, for she was perched up on the high seat of the red Romany
wardo, and she drove her two strong, shaggy horses with a free and
careless hand. But to Dora Parse the blur of vague shadows gliding by
each wheel was not vague at all. Suddenly she checked her horses and
The patteran for which she was looking was laid beneath a clump of
the flowering weed which the Romanys call “stars in the sky.” The
gorgios know it as Queen Ann's lace, and the farmers curse it by the
name of the wild carrot. The patteran was like a miniature log cabin
without a roof, and across the top one large stick was laid, pointing
upward along the mountain road.
Two brown and slender fingers on the big braid which dropped over
her shoulder, the princess meditated, a shiver of fear running through
her. What, she asked herself, could this mean? Why, for the first time
in years, were the wagons to go to the farm of Jan Jacobus? Even if it
were only a chance happening, it was a most unfortunate one, for young
Jan, the fair-haired, giant son of old Jacobus, with his light blue
eyes and his drawling, insolent speech, was the last person in the
world that she wanted to see, especially with her man near.
For she had meant no harm. Many and many a time she had smiled into
the eyes of men and felt pride in her power over them. Still—and
yet—The princess scattered the patteran with her foot, for she knew
that all the wagons must be ahead of her, since she had lagged so, and
she leaped to her seat with one easy, lithe swing and drove on up the
Jan Jacobus, like several other descendants of the Dutch settlers of
New Jersey, held his upland farm on shares with John Lane's tribe of
gypsies. Jacobuses and Bantas and Koppfs, they made no bones about
having business dealings with the tribe of English Romanys which had
followed a regular route, twice a year, from Maryland to the upper part
of New Jersey, since before the beginning of the Revolutionary days.
The descendants of the English settlers, the Hardys, the Lesters, the
Vincents, and the Farrands, looked with still persisting English
reserve upon the roamers of the woods and would have no traffic with
them, though a good many of their sons and daughters had to know the
few Romany young people who were left, by twos and threes in the towns
for occasional years of schooling.
The tribe, trading in land in the two States which they frequented,
and breeding horses, was very rich, but not very many people knew that.
However, they were conceded to be shrewd bargainers, and when old John
bought Martin Debbins' upland and rocky farm one year, with the money
that he had made by a lucky purchase of a gangling colt whose owner had
failed rightly to appraise its possibilities as a racer, Boonton and
Dover and Morristown laughed.
“Sal away,” old John retorted pleasantly to the cashier of
the bank in Boonton, where the tube had deposited its surplus funds for
many years, “but you won't sal so much when you dik what
I will make out of that joke.”
The cashier thereupon looked thoughtful. It might well be that he
and others would not laugh when they saw good fortune which might have
been theirs following this genial old outlaw.
That summer the wagons camped on the Debbins place, and old John
stocked it with a lot of fine hogs, for which the land was especially
adapted. They fattened on the many acres, wooded with wild nut trees,
and Jacobus—as keen a bargainer as any Romany, upon whom John Lane had
had his eye all the time—took the farm on shares, and every year
thereafter the cashier at the bank added a neat little total to the big
balance which the tribe was rolling up.
And every year, as the wagons beat up toward Dover in July, old John
would drive on ahead and spend a night of mingled business and pleasure
with old Jan, reckoning up the profits on the Berkshires for which the
farm was now famous, and putting down big mugs of the “black drink” for
which Aunty Alice Lee, John Lane's ancient cousin, was equally famous.
The amount of this fiery and head-splitting liquor which the two old
men thus got away with was afterward gleefully recounted in the wagons
and fearfully whispered of in the little Dutch church at Horse's Neck
which the Jacobuses had attended for over a hundred years.
But never, as wagon after wagon had gone up the turning that led to
the upward farm, had there been a patteran pointing that way. Always,
it had shown the way onward and downward, to the little hamlet of
Rockaway, where there was an old and friendly camping place, back of
the blacksmith shop beyond the church. Old John never encouraged the
wagons to visit any of the properties held by the tribe.
“Silver blackens the salt of friendship,” he would say.
Dora Parse was driving her own wardo, a very fine one which
had belonged to her mother. Lester Montague, of Sea Tack, Maryland, who
makes the wagons of Romanys for all the Atlantic coast tribes, like his
father before him, had done an especially good job of it. The princess
had been certified, by the Romany rites, to old John's eldest son,
George, for she had flatly refused to be married according to the
gorgio ways. Not having been married a full year, he was not yet
entitled to carry the heavy, silver-topped stick which is the badge of
the married man, nor could he demand a place in his wife's tent or
wagon unless she expressly invited him. Dora Parse and George Lane were
passionately in love with each other, and their meeting and mating had
been the flowering romance of the tribe, the previous summer.
The princess, being descended from a very old Romany family, as her
name showed, was far higher in rank than any one in the Lane tribe. Her
aristocratic lineage showed in the set of her magnificent head, in the
small, delicate fingers of her hand, and in the fire and richness of
her eyes. Also, her skin was of the colour of old ivory upon which is
cast a distant, faint reflection of the sunset, and her mouth, thinner
than those of most Romanys, was of the colour of a ripe pomegranate.
“A rauni, a puro rauni,” all the tribes of the eastern coast
murmured respectfully, when Dora Parse's name was mentioned.
She was, indeed, a very great lady, but she was a flirtatious and
headstrong girl. She was one of the few modern gypsies who still hold
to the unadulterated worship of “those.” All the members of John Lane's
tribe were Methodists—had been since before they had migrated from
England. In every wagon, save Dora's, a large illustrated Bible lay on
a little table, and those who could, read them aloud to the rest of a
Sunday afternoon. This did not mean, however, that the Romanys had
descended to gorgio ways, or that they had wholly left off their
attentions to “those”. They combined the two. Old John was known as a
fervent and eloquent leader in prayer at the Wednesday-night prayer
meetings in the Maryland town where his church membership was held, but
he had not ceased to carry the “box of meanings,” as befitted the chief
of the tribe.
This was a very beautifully worked box of pure gold, made by the
great Nikola of Budapest, whose boxes can be found inside the shirt of
every gypsy chief, where they are always carried. In them are some
grains of wheat, garnered by moonlight, a peacock's feather, and a
small silver bell with a coiled snake for a handle. When anything is to
be decided, a few of the grains are taken out and counted. If they are
even, the omen is bad, but if they are odd, all is well. Old John had
an elastic and accommodating mind, like all Romanys, so he never
thought it strange that he should ask the “box of meanings” whether or
not it was going to storm on prayer-meeting nights.
Dora Parse thought of the box now, and wished that she might have
the peacock's feather for a minute, so that her uneasy sense of
impending bad luck would leave her. Then she stopped beside a
cross-barred gate where an old man was evidently waiting for her.
“Lane was gettin' troubled about yuh,” he said, as he turned the
horses and peered curiously up at her. He knew who she was, not only
because John Lane had said who it was who was late, but because Dora
Parse's appearance was well known to the whole countryside. She was the
only member of the tribe who kept to the full Romany dress. There were
big gold loops in her small ears, and on her arms, many gold bracelets,
whose lightness testified to their freedom from alloy. Her skirt was of
red, heavily embroidered in blue, and her waist, with short sleeves,
was of sheer white cloth, with an embroidered bolero. Her hair she wore
in the ancient fashion, in two braids on either side of her face. She
could well afford to, the chis muttered among themselves. Any girl with
hair like that—
There was a long lane leading to the barns and to the meadow back of
them, and there, said Jan, the tribe was to camp. As the princess drove
along the short distance, she swiftly snatched off her little bolero,
put it on wrong side out, and then snatched it off and righted it. That
much, at least, she could do to avert ill luck. And her heart bounded
as she drove in among the other wagons, for her husband came running to
meet her and held out his arms.
She dropped into them and laid each finger tip, delicately, in
succession, upon his eyes and his ears and his mouth, the seal of a
betrothal and the sign whereby a Romany chal may know that a chi
intends to accept him when he speaks for her before the tribe; a sign
that lovers repeat as a sacred and intimate caress. She leaned, hard,
into his arms, and he held her, pressing the tender, confidential kiss
that is given to children behind her little ear.
Dora Parse suddenly ran both hands through his thick hair and gave
it a little pull. She always did that when her spirits rose. Then she
turned and looked at the scene, and at once she knew that there was to
be some special occasion. Aunty Alice Lee was seated by a cooking fire,
on which stood the enormous iron pot in which the “big meals” were
prepared, when the tribe was to eat together and not in separate
groups, as it usually did. There were some boards laid on wooden
horses, and Pyramus Lee, aunty's grandson, was bringing blocks of wood
from the woodshed for seats. Dora Parse clapped her hands with delight
and looked at her man.
“Tetcho!” she exclaimed, approvingly, using the word that
spells all degrees of satisfaction. “And what is it for, stickless one?
Is it a talk over silver?”
“Yes, it is some business,” George Lane replied, “but first there
will be a gillie shoon.”
A gillie shoon has its counterpart in the English word
“singsong,” as it is beginning to be used now, with this exception:
Romanys have few “fixed” songs. They have strains which are set, which
every one knows, but a gillie shoon means that the performers
improvise coninually; and in this sense it is a mystic ceremony, never
held at an appointed time, except a “time of Mul-cerus,” which really
means a sort of religious wave of feeling, which strikes tribe after
tribe, usually in the spring.
“Marda has come back,” Aunty Lee called out to Dora Parse. No one
ever called her by her full name of Marda Lee, because she was a Lee
only by courtesy, having been adopted from a distant wagon when both
her parents were killed in a thunderstorm. Marda, wearing the trim
tailored skirt and waist that were her usual costume, was putting the
big red tablecloth of the “big meals” on the boards. Dora went quickly
toward the young girl and embraced her.
“How is our little scholar?” she asked affectionately.
“I am very well, Dora Parse, but a little tired,” Marda answered.
“And did you receive another paper?”
“Yes. I passed my exams. It will save me half a year in Dover.”
“That is good,” Dora Parse replied, although she had only the
dimmest idea of what Marda meant. The young girl knew that. She had
just come from taking a special course in Columbia, and she was feeling
the breach between herself and her people to be especially wide.
Because of that, perhaps, she also felt more loving toward all of them
than she ever had, and especially toward Dora about whom she knew
something that was most alarming. Dora Parse noted the pale, grave face
of her favourite friend with concern.
“Smile, bird of my heart,” she entreated, “for we are to have a
gillie shoon. Sit near me, that I may follow your heaven voice.”
There was no flattery meant. The Romanys call the soprano “the
heaven voice,” the tenor “the sky voice,” the contralto “the earth
voice,” and the basso “the sea voice.” Dora had a really wonderful
earth voice, almost as wonderful as Marda's heaven voice, which would
have been remarkable even among opera singers, and the two were known
everywhere for their improvisations. In answer to the remark of the
princess, Marda gave her a strange look and said:
“I shall be near you, Dora Parse. Do not forget.”
Her manner was certainly peculiar, the princess thought, as she
walked away. But then one never knew what Marda was thinking about. Her
great education set her apart from others. Any chi who habitually read
herself to sleep over those most puro libros, “The Works of
William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes, Complete, with Glossary and
Appendix,” must not be judged by ordinary standards. The princess knew
the full title of those puro libros, having painfully spelled it
out, all one rainy afternoon, in Marda's mother's wagon, with repeated
assitance and explanations from Marda, which had left the princess with
Now Aunty Lee took off the heavy iron cover of the pot and the odour
of Romany duck stew, than which there is nothing in the world more
appetizing, mingled with the sweet fragrance of the drying hay. Aunty
thrust a fork as long as a poker into the bubbling mass and then gave
the call that brings the tribe in a hurry.
“Empo!” she said in her shrill, cracked voice. “Empo! Empo!”
Laughing, teasing, jostling, talking, they all came, spilling out
from the wagons, running from the barn, sauntering in, the lovers, by
twos, and sat down before the plates heaped high with the duck and the
vegetables with which it was cooked and the big loaves of Italian bread
which the Romanys like and always buy as they pass through towns where
there are Italian bakeries.
But they sat quiet then, and each one looked toward the princess, as
politeness demanded, since she was the highest in rank among them.
She drew a sliver of meat from her plate and tossed it over her
“To the great re” she said.
“To the shule,” each one murmured. Then, having paid their
compliments to the sun and the moon, as all good Romanys must before
eating, they fell to with heartiness.
When they were through, the mothers and the old men cleared away the
tables and put the younger children to bed in the wagons, and the
princess and George Lane and Marda and young Adam Lane, George's
youngest brother, walked up and down, outside the glow from the cooking
fire, taking the deep, full breaths which cleanse the mouth and prepare
the soul for the ecstasy of song.
The men took away the table and the lanterns which had been standing
about, and put out the cooking fire, for the big moon was rolling up
over the treetops, and Romanys sing by her light alone, if they can.
Frogs were calling in the shallow stretches of the Upper Rockaway.
People began to sit down in a big circle.
Then Marda started the gillie shoon. At first you could not
have been sure whether the sound was far or near, for she “covered” her
tones, in a way that many a gorgio gives years and much silver to
learn. Then the wonderful tone swelled out, as if an organ stop were
being pulled open, and one by one, the four leaders cast in the
dropping notes which followed and sustained the theme that Marda was
Old John, who had not appeared before, slid into the circle, holding
by the sleeve a giant of a man who seemed to come half unwillingly.
Dora Parse saw him, and she could not repress the shiver that ran
through her at the sight of young Jan Jacobus, yet she sang on. The
deep, majestic basses throbbed out the foundation of the great
fuguelike chorus, and the sopranos soared and soared until they were
singing falsetto, according to gorgio standards, only it sounded like
the sweetly piercing high notes of violins, and the tenors and
contraltos wove a garland of glancing melody between the two. They were
all singing now. Rocking back and forth a little, swaying gently from
side to side, lovers clasped together, mothers in their young sons'
arms, and fathers clasping their daughters, they sent out to the velvet
arch above them the heart cry of a race, proud and humble, cleanly
voluptuous, strong and cruel, passionate and loving, elemental like the
north wind and subtle as the fragrance of the poppy.
“Ai—lallu! Ai—lala—lala! Ai—lallu!”
Jan Jacobus sat with his big jaw dropping. Stupid boor that he was,
he could not have explained the terrifying effect which this wild music
and those tense, uplifting faces had upon him, but he would have given
anything to be back in his mother's kitchen, with the lamp lit and the
dark, unfamiliar night shut out.
As suddenly as the singing had begun, it stopped. People coughed,
moved a little, whispered to one another. Then George Lane stood upon
his feet, pulling Dora Parse with him.
“You see her?” he asked them all, holding out his wife in his arms.
Dora Parse knew then, for he was beginning the ritual of the man or
woman who accuses a partner, before the tribe, of unfaithfulness. He
was using the most puro Romany jib, for only so can the
serious affairs of the tribe tribunal be conducted. Dora Parse
struggled in the strong hands of her man.
“No! No!” she cried. “No—no!”
“You see her?” George Lane repeated to the circle.
“We see her,” they answered in a murmur that ran around from end to
“She is mine?”
“She is yours.”
“What shall be done to her if she has lost the spirit of our love?”
Again Dora Parse furiously struggled, but George Lane held her.
“What shall be done with her? If that is so?”
Aunty Lee, as the oldest woman present, now took up the replies, as
was her right and duty:
“Let her go to that other, if she wishes, and do you close your tent
and your wagon against her.”
“And if she does not wish?”
“Then punish her.”
“What shall be done to the man?”
“Is he a Romany?”
Jan Jacobus half started up, but strong hands instantly jerked him
“He is a gorgio?”
“Do nothing. We do not soil our hands with gorgios. Let the woman
bear the blame. She is a Romany. She should have known better. She is a
woman, the wiser sex. It is her fault. Let her be punished.”
“Do you all say so?” George Lane demanded.
“We say so.” Again the rippling murmur.
Jan Jacobus made a desperate attempt to get on his feet, but, for
all his strength, he might as well have tried to uncoil the folds of a
great snake as to unbind the many hands that held him, for the Romanys
have as many secret ways of restraining a person as the Japanese.
George Lane drew his wife tenderly close to him.
“She shall be punished,” he said, “but first she shall hear, before
you all, that I love her and that I know she has not lost the spirit of
our love. Her fault was born of lightness of heart and vanity, not of
“What is her fault? Name it,” commanded Aunty Lee.
George Lane looked over at Jan.
“Her fault is that she trusted a gorgio to understand the ways of a
Romany. For our girls have the spirit of love in their eyes, but no man
among us would kiss a girl unless he received the sign from her. But
the gorgio men are without honour. To-day, as this woman who is mine
stopped to talk with a gorgio, among some trees where I waited,
thinking to enter her wagon there, he kissed her, and she kissed him,
“Not with the lubbeny kiss—not with that kiss!” Dora Parse
cried. “May I be lost as Pharaoh was in the sea if I speak not the
The solemn oath, never taken by any Romany lightly and never falsely
sworn to, rang out on the still night air. A cold, but firm little hand
was slipped into Dora Parse's. Marda was near, as she had promised, and
the hot palm of the princess closed gratefully upon it.
George Lane drew his wife upon his breast, and over her glossy head
he looked for encouragement to Aunty Lee, who knew what he must do. He
was very pale, but he must not hesitate.
“Kiss me, my love,” he said, loudly and clearly, “here before my
people, that I may punish you. Give me the kiss of love, when tongues
and lips meet, that you may know your fault.”
Now Dora Parse grew very pale, too, and she leaned far back against
her man's arms, her eyes wide with terror. And no one spoke, for in all
the history of the tribe this thing had never happened before, though
every one had heard of it. Dora Parse knew that, if she refused, her
oath would be considered false, and she would be cast out, not only
from her husband's tent and wagon, but from all Romany tribes. And
slowly she leaned forward, and George Lane bent down.
Jan Jacobus, although he had not understood the words of the ritual,
thought he knew what had happened. The gypsy fool was forgiving his
pretty wife. The young Dutchman settled back on his haunches, suddenly
aware that he was no longer held. And then, with all the others, he
sprang to his feet, for Dora Parse was hanging in her husband's arms,
with blood pouring from her mouth and George Lane was sobbing aloud as
he called her name.
“What—what—what happened?” Jan stammered. “Gawd—did he kill her?”
Old John Lane, his serene face unruffled, turned the bewildered and
frightened boy toward the lane and spoke, in the silky, incisive tones
which were half of his enchanting charm.
“Nothing much has happened. One of our girls allowed a gorgio to
kiss her, so her man bit off the tip of her tongue. It is not
necessary, often, to do it, but it is not a serious matter. It will
soon heal. She will be able to talk—a little. It is really nothing,
but I thought you might like to see it. It is seldom that gorgios are
allowed to see a thing like that.
“Please say to your father that I will spend the evening as usual
with him. My people will pass on.”