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 rational thought.       

          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 careful.

           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.

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 away.

            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 festering palm. 


           “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 sound?”
            “Oh!” The 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 that promise.   

          “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 it.”

          “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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Lily Silver, Romance Author


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