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“Robson, run down to the village, at once, and tell the policeman to come up here; and ask if any gypsies, or tramps, have been seen in the neighborhood.”
The village lay at the gate of Captain Ripon’s park, and the gardener soon returned with the policeman.
“I’ve heard say there are some gypsies camped on Netherwood Common, four miles away,” that functionary said, in answer to Captain Ripon.
“Put the gray mare in the dog cart, Sam. We will drive over at once. They will hardly expect us so soon. We will pick up another policeman, at Netherwood. They may show fight, if we are not in strength.”
Five minutes later, Captain Ripon was traveling along the road at the rate of twelve miles an hour; with Sam by his side, and the policeman sitting behind. At Netherwood they took up another policeman and, a few minutes later, drove up to the gypsy encampment.
There was a slight stir when they were seen approaching; and then the gypsies went on with their usual work, the women weaving baskets from osiers, the men cutting up gorse into skewers. There were four low tents, and a wagon stood near; a bony horse grazing on the common.
“Now,” Captain Ripon said, “I am a magistrate, and I daresay you know what I have come for. My fowl house has been broken open, and some valuable fowls stolen.
“Now, policeman, look about, and see if you can find any traces of them.”
The gypsies rose to their feet, with angry gestures.
“Why do you come to us?” one of the men said. “When a fowl is stolen you always suspect us, as if there were no other thieves in the world.”
“There are plenty of other thieves, my friend; and we shall not interfere with you, if we find nothing suspicious.”
“There have been some fowls plucked, here,” one of the policemen said. “Here is a little feather–” and he showed one, of only half an inch in length “–and there is another, on that woman’s hair. They have cleaned them up nicely enough, but it ain’t easy to pick up every feather. I’ll be bound we find a fowl, in the pot.”
Two of the gypsies leaped forward, stick in hand; but the oldest man present said a word or two to them, in their own dialect.
“You may look in the pot,” he said, turning to Captain Ripon, “and maybe you will find a fowl there, with other things. We bought ‘em at the market at Hunston, yesterday.”
The policeman lifted the lid off the great pot, which was hanging over the fire, and stirred up the contents with a stick.
“There’s rabbits here–two or three of them, I should say–and a fowl, perhaps two, but they are cut up.”
“I cannot swear to that,” Captain Ripon said, examining the portions of fowl, “though the plumpness of the breasts, and the size, show that they are not ordinary fowls.”
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