Open main menu

Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/54

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
34
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

prachicos; they were honest folk. Whatever you may think of them, they were sometimes sincerely scrupulous. They pushed open a door, entered, bargained for a child, paid, and departed. All was done with propriety.

They were of all nationalities. English, French, Castilians, Germans, Italians fraternized under the name of Comprachicos. A unity of idea, a unity of superstition, and the pursuit of the same calling make such fusions. In this roving fraternity those of the Mediterranean seaboard represented the East, those of the Atlantic seaboard the West. Many Basques held converse with many Irishmen. The Basque and the Irishman understand each other, they speak the old Punic jargon; add to this the intimate relations of Catholic Ireland with Catholic Spain,—relations such that they resulted in bringing to the gallows in London one who was almost King of Ireland, the Celtic Lord de Brany.

The Comprachicos were rather a fellowship than a tribe; rather a residuum than a fellowship. They were all the riff-raff of the universe, having a crime for their trade. They were a sort of harlequin people, all composed of rags. To gain a recruit was to sew on another tatter. To appear and disappear, to wander about, was the Comprachicos' law of existence. What is barely tolerated cannot take root. Even in kingdoms where their business supplied the Courts, and occasionally served as an auxiliary to the royal power, they were often ill-treated. Kings made use of their art and then sent the artists to the galleys. These inconsistencies belong to the ebb and flow of royal caprice,—"For such is our good will and pleasure."

A rolling stone and a roving trade gather no moss. The Comprachicos were poor. They might have said