‘Not far now Dobbs - can see the village church through the trees.’
The old shire snorted as if it understood Joe’s talk. Having a stiff rheumatoid leg it clopped slowly towards the village of Cowden. It was here that this year’s horse sale was to be held.
Shep also seemed to understand and almost somersaulted down from the caravan where he had been reclining next to his master. He headed toward the bushes, did what trained dogs have to do and then leapt back up onto his blanket.
The fourth member of Joe’s family was a magpie that he had nurtured back to health after finding it with a broken wing on the roadside. It wasn’t able to fly but it could talk a little – its favourite phrase being, ‘Walk on.’ Dobbs obeyed this command even when Joe wasn’t around. It took Joe almost an hour to find his merry band on one occasion.
Joe’s father was the famous Romany evangelist the late Joseph Smithson. Joe had taken up his mantle after his demise and was now on his way to the annual equine fair to do his stuff.
As they arrived there was a great throng already intermingling in and around the meadowland. He tethered Dobbs then arranged his whittling gear and ornaments on his trestle table and waited like a fisher for a bite, (this was his living).
Right in the centre of his stall was a model carousel whittled from wood, held together with wire and string and colourfully painted in primary shades. A wheel winder whizzed it round and the children were enjoying operating it.
He handed out free whistles made from elder branches to the youngsters – the dogs didn’t know which way to turn because of the numerous commands.
The children were also given invitation cards to hand out to all and sundry requesting their attendance at the evening jamboree round the campfire. Joe joked, ‘Give them out to everyone – even the horses!’
Three converts of Joseph senior helped set up for the night session. They collected wood and set up oil lights and candle lamps on wooden staves. Later they lit the fire which became a beacon to beckon the camp to the meeting.
They brought with them their stools, wooden boxes and cushions for seating arrangements. About a hundred or so had gathered and Joe addressed them, ‘Thanks for your company. Enjoy your evening of music and dance. So let’s get started!’
Elders John and Jim joined Joe as the musicians playing mandolin, fiddle and accordion respectively.
Lively dancing around the campfire followed. Group circular dance interspersed with partner twists and turns. Variations of these movements went on for almost an hour non-stop. Then the music ceased and the dancers took to their seats.
Stepping into the fire’s light was beautiful Marie Lee. She started dancing with graceful movements of body and limbs perfectly in time with the music. Her waist-long red hair flashed as an extension of the blaze.
Young men’s hearts fluttered at such enchanting Salome dancing – including Joe’s!
After, Marie Lee then gave her testimony, her final words being, ‘Jesus is wonderful, I recommend him to you.’
Then peer and similar interest groups casually joined up and began chatting which went on into the wee hours of the morning. This was Joe’s ministry – not so much preaching as joining in at group times.
One group of men he joined were discussing the events of the day. How Elias Shufflebottom’s grey shire had broken all records with its price. After a while Joe moved on.
Some senior ladies were commiserating with Amelia whose husband had died between fairs. Two of her Christian friends were praying and when Joe joined them he was asked to minister to her. He enfolded her in his arms and said, ‘The Lord loves you Amelia.’ He held her for some minutes while she wept it out.
The next group was the young people’s gang. He felt at 30 he could just scrape into this age group. Young men and women were discussing with Marie Lee about her faith. She was skilfully finding appropriate scriptures from her little Bible as she sat by the oil lamp.
Finally all the groups dispersed.
Later, lying in his caravan bunk he thought about the next spring fair at Lemonton. Many young Romany couples got wed at this fair.
He prayed ‘Lord, one day let that be Marie Lee and me.’
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