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Story No. 88

The Jealous Husband

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania, Bukovina, Ukraine

There was a merchant, great and wealthy, and he had a beautiful wife; he did not let her go out. And he went in a ship on the Danube after merchandise with another merchant. And they were coming home. They hauled their ships to the bank, and moored them to the bank, to pass the night. They fell into discourse. Said one, 'Has your wife got a lover at home?'

And he said, 'My wife has not got a lover.'

'Come, what will you give me if I become her lover?'

'If you do, I will give you my estate, and my merchandise too, ship and all.'

'How will you know that I am her lover?'

If you tell me her birth-mark, and if you take the gold ring from her finger. But my wife will be like to thrash you, if you but hint such a thing to her. I left a maid with her, to see that my wife does not go out of doors.'

'I shall succeed, though.'

'Go home and try; I'll bring your ship.'

Home he went. What will he do? for he cannot come near her. He found an old wife. 'Old wife, what am I to do to get the ring from the lady?'

'What will you give me if I contrive that you get it?'

'I will give you a hundred florins.'

'Get a big chest made, and a window in it, and get into it, and make a bolt inside, and I will carry you to her.'

She carried him in the chest under the wall of her house, and went to the lady. 'I beg you, lady, to take in my box of clothes, so that they may not be stolen.'

'Carry it into the hall.'

She called the maid, and the maid helped her to carry him into the hall.

'I beg you, lady, to let me take it right into your house. I will come in the morning to fetch it.'

'Well, put it in a corner.'

The old woman went off home. The lady at night took a bath, and laid the ring on the table, and washed herself. And through the little window he perceived a mole under her right breast. The lady slept all night in her bed, and forgot the ring on the table, and put out the candle. And he let himself out, took the ring off the table, and got back into the chest, shut himself in. The old woman came next morning at daybreak, and carried her chest outside. He opened it, and came out, and took the chest, and departed. He went to meet the husband, and found him on the way.

'Hast thou lain with my lady?'

I have.'

'What is her birth-mark?'

'She has a mole under her right breast. If you do not believe me, here is the ring as well.'

'It's all right; take the ship and everything in it, and come home, and I will give you also the estate.'

He went home, and said never a word to the lady; and he made a little boat, and put her in it, and let it go on the Danube. 'Since you have done this, away you go on the Danube.' He gave his whole estate, and became poor, and carried water for the Jews.

A whole year she floated on the Danube; the year went like a day. An old man caught her, and drew her to shore, and opened the boat, and took her out, and brought her to his house. She abode with him three years, and spun with her spindle, and made some money. And she bought herself splendid man's clothes, and dressed herself, and cut her hair short, and went back to her husband. She went and passed the night beneath a lime-tree, and slept under the lime-tree. In that city the emperor was blind. She saw a dream: in the lime-tree was a hole, and in the hole was water; and if the emperor will anoint himself with that water he will see. She arose in the morning, and searched around, and found the hole. And she had a little pail, and she drew water in the pail, and put it in her pocket, and went into that city to an inn, and drank three kreutzers' worth of brandy. And she asked the Jew, 'What's the news with you?'

'Our emperor is blind, and he will give his kingdom to him who shall make him see.'

'I will do so.'

The Jew went to the emperor, and the emperor said to him, 'Hah! go and bring him to me.'

They brought him to the emperor. 'Will you make me see? then I will give you my daughter.'

She took water, and anointed his eyes, and he saw. The emperor set his crown on her head. 'Do you be emperor. I want nothing but to stay beside you.' The emperor clad her royally, called his army, beat the drum. 'For there's a new emperor.'

And she saw her husband carrying water for the Jews. 'Come hither. Have you always been poor?'

'No, I once was not poor, I was rich. I had an estate, and I was a great merchant.'

'Then how did you lose your estate?'

'I lost it over a wager. My wife played the wanton with another, and I gave up the estate, and sent her adrift on the Danube.'

Straightway she sent for the other, and they brought him. 'How did you come by this man's estate?'

'Over a wager.'

'What was your wager?'

'That I would lie with her.'

'Then you did so?'

'I did.'

'And, pray, what were her birth-marks?'

'Under her right breast she had a mole.'

'Would you know that mole again?'

'I would.'

Then she drew out her breast. 'Did you lie with me?'

'I did not.'

'Then why those falsehoods? Here, take him, and cut him all to pieces.'

And she looked earnestly on her husband. 'You, why did you not ask me at the time?'

'I was a fool, and I was angry.'

Here, take him outside, and give him five-and-twenty, to teach him wisdom.'

She threw the robes off her, and put them on him. 'Do you be emperor, and I empress.'


Were I a painter, I would paint a picture – the Forest of Arden, a Gypsy encampment, with tents, dogs, donkeys, and children, a Gypsy story-teller, and Shakespeare. But one knows, of course, that Shakespeare derived the material of his Cymbeline from the novel of Boccaccio

(Dec. ii. 9), immediately in all likelihood, and not through the second story in Westward for Smelts. Granted he did, the question arises next, whence did Boccaccio get his material? Did he invent it, and, if so, is this Gypsy story derived from Boccaccio, and not it only, but Campbell's West Highland tale of 'The Chest' (No. 18), Lanninie's 'Servant of Poverty' (West Irish Folk-tales, pp. 115-129), and at least two other folk-tales cited by Köhler – one in Wolf's German Hausmärchen, p. 355, and one from Roumania in Ausland, 1856, p. 1053? Campbell's story at any rate cannot have come from Boccaccio, containing, as it does, the essence, not merely of Cymbeline, but also of The Merchant of Venice. For its hero borrows £50 on condition that if he does not repay it within a year and a day he is to lose a strip of skin cut from his head to his foot; [Cf. note on the Polish-Gypsy story of 'The Brigands and the Miller's Daughter,' No 47]. 'Yes,' says the heroine, but in cutting it, not one drop of blood must be shed.' To go fully into this question would occupy pages and pages; I must content myself with referring to The Remarks of M. Karl Simrock on the Plots of Shakespeare's Plays, with notes by J. O. Halliwell (Shakespeare Soc. 1850), pp. 64-75 and 45-63, and to Reinhold Köhler on Campbell's tale in Orient and Occident, ii. 1864, pp. 313-316. But it is just worth pointing out that Gypsies may have had a considerable influence on the European drama. The Scottish Gypsies who, as recorded in the Introduction, used yearly to gather in the stanks of Roslin during the last half of the sixteenth century, acted there 'severall plays.' We have not the dimmest notion what those plays may have been; still, this would be quite an early item in any history of the stage in Scotland. Sir William Ouseley in his Travels in Persia (1823), iii. 400-405, gives a long description of a Persian puppet-play, curiously like our own Punch and Judy: the managers of these shows, and the musicians who attended them, were said to be of the Karachi or Gypsy tribe.' I myself at Göttingen, in 1873, several times calve across a family of German Gypsies, very full-blooded ones, who were marionette-showers; like a dull dog, I never went to see their shows. Gorger (Rómani gaújo, Gentile or man) is current theatrical slang for a manager; and Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1851) shows that the slang of our English show-folk contains a good many Rómani words. The very Pandean pipes are suggestive of importation from South-east Europe. Goethe's Wilhelm Meister offers something to the purpose, so also do the Bunjara players in Mrs. F. A. Steel's On the Face of the Waters (1896); and my own In Gypsy Tents, pp. 295-6, gives a glance at an English travelling theatre whose performers spoke fluent Rómani.


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