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Sunday, March 2, 2014
Serialized Sundays; The Gypsy's Curse, Chapter 4
Here is the next scene in "The Gypsy's Curse" Thanks for stopping by to read my rough draft. If you enjoy the story, leave a comment. Those who do will recieve a free copy of the final product. Leave your email address for me so I can contact you.
Chapter Four Copyright, Lily Silver 2013
The darkness was cloying at her. Zara was confined,
trapped in some sort of box. A coffin? Her mind made the connection against all
Zara gave a thin screech, and clawed at the cool fabric
hanging above her and touching her face. She winced, and shook her wounded hand
as tears stung her eyes. The wound was festering. Judging by the wetness of her
palm it was bleeding again or worse.
She must have fallen asleep in the clothes press while
waiting for the cottager and his wife to leave the house. Rising up on her
numbed knees, with anxious fingers, she felt the smooth wood in front of her
for the spring latch and pushed the door open. It creaked slightly, and she
cursed herself for her carelessness in making even the slightest noise. She
didn’t know if the caretakers were gone for certain as yet. She had to be
Oh, the air was so sweet and fresh as it caressed her hot
face and freshened her stale lungs. Crouched on calves and knees that had lost
all feeling, she listened to the strange new sound echoing through the room.
Pat-a-tat-tat. Pat-a-tat-tat. It was a steady, rhythmic sound made by nature,
not the uneven ones made by people attending their chores. Zara sighed with
relief and listened closely to the peculiar sound. She leaned forward, bracing
herself with her good hand against the doorjamb of the closet so she didn’t
fall out of it on her face.
Pat-a-tat-tat. There it was again. The sound of
icy water blowing against the window across the room, overshadowed briefly b a
deep, low rumble that shook the roof and the foundations of the house.
Curses! She crawled out of the clothes press and
stumbled forward on stiff legs. Just her luck, it was storming outside. She
couldn’t leave the manse as she’d hoped, not until the winds and driving rains
let up. Zara wobbled toward the lacy window, recognizing the leaden pall beyond
the expensive fabric before she even reached the casement to pull the curtain
The skies were heavy with anger. They seemed to mock
her determination to put at least two shires between herself and the mob
hunting her. Without the sunlight, she couldn’t tell the time of day. Was it
noon or early evening? It had been early morning when she climbed into
the closet to evade discovery. She could not have slept in the closet for very
long, could she? The rumbling beneath her ribs made her doubt her judgment. She
hadn’t eaten yet today.
Zara moved from the window to retrieve her bag from the
closet. She hefted it over her shoulder and closed the door on the fine lawn
shirts and velvet jackets and breeches hanging there. Her eyes surveyed the
room for a clock. The furnishings had been covered, draped in white sheets to
protect them from the accumulation of dust. The mantel above the black marble
fireplace sported a clock, but it hadn’t been wound for some time. The hands
stood still, as if resenting the labor of recording the passage of time.
She supposed it didn’t matter so much what the hour was. It
wasn’t nightfall as yet. She could have a look about the manse, start a fire in
one of the rooms that didn’t have a window, or at least one that didn’t face to
the west and would be noticed from the road or the hollow near the lake. She
would close herself in for the remainder of the day. The cottagers wouldn’t be
out in this weather. And if she were very careful, she might be able to spend
another night indoors, where it was dry and somewhat warm.
The hallway was dark, as the only windows were at the end of
it and over the stairs. Zara slid the leather bag over her shoulder and held it
steady with her uninjured hand. Her footsteps were muted on the carpet as she
made her way to the open mahogany stairs. She paused at the top of the
expansive stairway, marveling once more at the ingenuity of the Gadje in
creating such wondrously regal spaces. The foyer below the carved, polished
wood banister had a checkered black and white floor. The light fixture about
her head had to hold at least fifty candles, if not more. She would love to see
it lit one night. It must shine like sun above.
She imagined herself standing here as a grand lady in a silk
gown and lovely jewels--rubies, of course, glittering at her throat. White
gloves would embrace her hands--the hands of a lady. Her dark hair would be
swept up in a fashionable style by a servant. There would be a crowd of people
gathered below, all eyes on her as they waited for her to descend and join them
so the ball might commence. And waiting at the bottom of the stairs would be a
gentleman, that certain someone who could not live without her in his world,
nor she without him in hers. No more would she be cold, wet, hunted like
an animal, abhorred by her father’s people and resented by her mother’s family.
She would be accepted, have a home at last, a place where she not only belonged
but was actually wanted and needed by those about her.
Touching the balustrade as she prepared to descend the
stairs brought Zara quickly back to reality. Her palm stung, as if an adder had
emerged from the polished wood to rebuke her for her foolish fantasy. She
released her breath in a low hiss. Tucking her wounded hand to her side, she
made a slow descent down the majestic stairs. The kitchen would be the first
stop on her journey through the magnificent Gadje palace, the kitchen where she
could start a fire, heat some water, and apply a healing poultice to her
“And you bade me
thanks for helpin’ ye home and told me to come around today to receive a
reward.” The street urchin concluded her tale and held out a dirty palm for the
promised coin.Set upon by thieves, in Coventry
Gardens? Stephan frowned at the chit. It sounded like a scam. A drunk lord
wandering about the Gardens late at night could only expect to be robbed or
worse, stabbed by some ne’er do well waiting in one of the hedges and thickets
surrounding the walkways. He didn’t know if this girl were telling the truth or
if she were taking him for a ride on the idiot coach.
“You are claiming I was with you last night?” It was
impossible. If she were a strumpet, she was not his type. She was too thin, for
one thing. Starved would be a more apt description and her face was too
childlike beneath a generous sprinkling of freckles and red hair.
“Oh, no sir. It wasn’t like that.” The waif actually had the good sense to blush.
“I found ye sprawled on the cobblestones, sir. You was holdin’ yer head. Ye
couldn’t get up without my help. You asked me to hail a cab but when you
reached into your coat, you said your coin purse was missing. That’s how I knew
you’d been robbed, sir. I helped you walk home, you gave me your card and told
me to come back this morning at nine-o’clock sharp.”
Stephan reached up to feel the back of his
head. There was no lump or wound, which wasn’t surprising, as Brisbane would
have remarked upon it while grooming him this morning if there had been. Still,
the girl was probably telling the truth. She found him in a dazed condition
after one of his harrowing blackouts and assumed he’d fallen prey to one of her
comrades. He was still clothed, so he must not have transformed. And there was
the matter of his card. She presented it when she spoke with the butler.
Stephan didn’t give out his card to anyone and he certainly wouldn’t have done
so to a street whore, even if he were foxed out of his mind.
“Well, I thank you, Miss . . .?”
“Maggie, sir, Maggie O’Donnell.” She
informed him primly.
“Thank you for helping me,
Miss O’Donnell.” He said politely. “I’m afraid I do not recall what it was I
promised you as a reward last night. The head injury, you know.” He rubbed the
back of his neck as he spoke to emphasize his oblivion. “How does ten pounds
freckled face bloomed crimson, framed in a riot of red curls spilling out of
her poke bonnet. “Why sir, I-I didn’t’that is to say---you promised . . .”
“Out with it. What did I promise you, Miss?” He replied with
more vehemence than was necessary as his hackles rose. What kind of chicanery
was this? Ten pounds was more than a girl her age could make in a year as a
scullery maid. It would keep her off the streets for a long time. Unless she
was greedy, that is.
“Well, sir.” She posed her hands in front of her
as if she were in a church and about to begin her prayers, licked her lips, and
then rushed on. “You promised me a position in your household, at some abbey,
ye said. I don’t reckon the name. T’was long. I know that much. You said you
was returning there and didn’t have no help--and you doubted the locals would
dare work there because of them strange murders, and you said I could be a maid
and . . .”
“And what?” he held up a hand to
silence her run on speech. Stephan regarded the girl with horror, not for her
story but because a random street waif could not know any of those things
unless he told her those things. He straightened from his casual slump in
the chair. “I told you that on the way home?” He eyed her severely as he waited
for her response.
“Aye, sir.” She mumbled, looking suitably ashamed
for repeating the tale. “But, you were pretty deep in your cups.” She added, as if that made all the difference.
“What of your family? Surely they would not
let you go off with a strange man to parts unknown.”
“My Da’s dead.”Miss O’Donnell informed him in a somber tone.
“I’ve no one else. Da brought me to London with him when he signed up for the
army. He told me to find a job in service when he left and wait to for his
return from the War. Seemed good advice. I’ve been trying, sir, but none will
have me ‘cause I ain’t got no references.”
“Don’t have. I do not
have any references.” He corrected, more as a stalling tactic than any real
annoyance. The girl could not help her lack of education and it seemed that
correct grammar was not her most pressing problem at the moment. “How old are
you? Don’t you have any relatives or friends that might take you in?”
The girl looked at him as if
Stephan had struck her. She blinked rapidly, trying to quell the rising tears. “There’s
nobody, sir. We left Newling Green after mama and my two brothers died. The
fever wiped out half the town. Da came to London last year to sign up for the
regiment. He left for Spain within a month. He arranged to have most of his
wages set aside here for me. I was to go to the Home Office each month to
collect it. Da used to write me, every week. He’d send his letters to the Home
Office as he didn’t know where I’d be working. The nice officer kept them until
I could come by and pick them up. The letters stopped coming a few months ago,
my lord. They say at the office me Da is either dead or missing.”
“I am sorry for your loss,
Miss O’Donnell.” Stephan replied, regretting his words.“However,I am not running an orphanage. I cannot be responsible for you, if that
is what you are hoping.”
“I’m no child beggin’ for
charity, sir. I’m seventeen.” She countered, drawing herself up to her full
height. “And I’ve known girls who have gone into service as young as fourteen.
I want to work. You said you needed maids in your manor house out in the
county, and after city living for six months without my Da, I’d like to have an
honest position in the country, sir.”
Stephan rubbed his temples as
the ache rekindled in his head. “Seventeen.” He repeated with a sarcastic
laugh, certain he was going to regret this sometime in the near future. The
girl didn’t look more than fourteen and he’d bet his last cigar she was not
much older than she looked. And yet, if what she said were true she had been
living hand to mouth on the streets for past month, maybe more, since her
father disappeared. The army did not give out wages to family members when a
soldier went missing. And what she wasn’t saying in all of this was that he
owed her something for saving his life--for helping him home when she could
have left him where he was and let the street scum find him and finish him off.
He promised her a position in his household, and God help him, he would keep
“So be it.” He said, lifting a hand to her for silence. “You
may have made a deal with devil, we shall see if you have the courage to keep
“Thank you, sir! Thank you.” The girl gushed as
if he’d given her a pretty bauble, not an opportunity to join the House of the
Damned. Any more encouragement and he feared she might hug him like an
exuberant child. You won’t regret it, I promise.”
Stephan already regretted it. Hiring an
adolescent girl to be a maid was not a duty for the master of the manor, it
normally would fall to the lady of the house, or in the very least, the
housekeeper. Since Julia was dead, she would hardly care now that the girl was
of obvious Irish descent, a critical flaw that troubled his snobbish spouse
when she was alive. Annie would bless him for bringing an extra set of hands to
help her work as the local women shunned the manse since Julia’s grisly death,
fearing they might come to a similar fate if they took a position working for
The Beast of Huntingdon Abbey.
“Now then.” Stephan replied, in a futile
attempt to stymie the girl’s excitement. “You will return here tomorrow with your
belongings. We leave at eight in the morning. I will not wait around for
you if you are late.”Copyright Lily Silver. 2013
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