Sunday, May 4, 2014

Serial Sundays: The Gypsy's Curse, Chapter 7 continuted

The Gypsy's Curse, Chapter7 Continued, 
     and  Chapter 8 part one,

First, my apologies for missing last week's post. I've had some family health issues that have taken up my time. My husband has been ill and in the hospital, so I missed last Sunday. I'll make it up to you with an extra post this week.  Plan on visiting again Wed for a scheduled post.


Chapter 7 Continuted.

        After peeking at the new arrival in the courtyard, Zara made a hasty retreat to her attic.

       The man was younger than she imagined he’d be. He looked to be no more than thirty. She’d expected some sour old goat, pleasantly plump with gray hair and suffering from gout.

       What arrived was quite the opposite. A young, trim handsome fellow dressed in a heavy redingote, gray pants and the ever popular Hessian boots that men of wealth seemed to never be without. He had russet brown hair and seemed taller than the others in the courtyard. His tall beaver hat might be responsible for that assessment, she realized, and the fact that she was looking down at them from above. He was well dressed, and although somewhat stoic, he seemed uncommonly pleasant for a rich Gadje. He’d paused to chat with the two old retainers instead of bustling rudely past them when they emerged from the front door to welcome him.

         The arrival of the master worried her. It changed everything. She couldn’t stay here now, not when the house would soon be full of servants. She’d be noticed. But she really couldn’t leave, not now with the skies threatening snow and winter setting in. She’d starve out in the woods, and worse. With no shelter, she’d be exposed to the elements and soon sicken and die. Damn—what was she to do now?

Sitting cross legged on the mattress in her secret fortress above the house, she fiddled with a red ribbon she’d snatched from the lady’s chamber and wrapped it around her finger. Over the past week, she’d picked out a few serviceable dresses from the lady’s wardrobe downstairs, nothing too fancy, so as to attract attention, but nothing too plain either, as the woman didn’t possess plain clothing, and Zara didn’t want to be taken for lower class servant by those she encountered when she did enter the world outside this refuge.

She was Miss Sarah Jennings, from Martinique. She’d been traveling with her elderly uncle through the Lake District, when their coach overturned and went down the side of a steep hill. Her uncle Jasper had been killed, as had the coachman. She’d been thrown from the open coach door and survived, or so she’d tell those who wanted to know, but the coach was at the bottom of a ravine. She’d wandered the woods for some time, dazed, unable to find her way. That was as far as she had come in weaving her story.

        The wrecked coach was not a flim flam. While running from the hunters she’d encountered an abandoned coach at the bottom of a ravine some miles from here, and had taken the coin from the spilled trunks along with a few other small treasures that the dead men no longer needed. It was a gruesome undertaking, but she’d learned at an early age to be practical in such matters as a matter of survival. Every gypsy child understood by the time they eight years of age that when the troop encountered a moldering corpse in the woods the only thing left to be done for the poor soul was to check the pockets for valuables and say a prayer of thanks over the body for whatever small bounty might be found among their earthly remains. Thanks to the coach accident, she not only had an explanation for her wandering through this shire, but she had plenty of coin and some jewels she might be able to sell in a larger city. The clothing, however, had been distinctly male, so she left them scattered on the ravine floor.  

        Aside from the few well worn muslin dresses she’d scavenged from the lady’s room here, she’d found a few cast offs from an early time in the attic trunks, a very practical and serviceable winter cloak. The outer material was of green velvet and the fur lining was a rich sable. And wonder of wonders, there was a matching sable fur muff. Zara marveled at the item and found herself putting her hands into the delicious nest of soft hair several times, just to experience the luxury and warmth it afforded. She also found some more practical woolen drawers and matching woolen underskirt that obviously were from an earlier period as the ladies in current fashions were wont to wear flimsy, often sleeveless gowns of sheer muslin, even in the winter.

        Distant voices in the servant’s quarters opposite the attic startled her. Zara burrowed down beneath the cache of coverlets and blankets she’d acquired for her mattress bed, and remained still in anticipation of the attic door at the interior end of the room being thrust open. She lay quietly beneath the blankets, and after hearing nothing for several moments, she sat up and looked over the barricade of furniture, trunks, and discarded portraits that cluttered the oblong attic room. The door, being at least thirty feet away from her at the centre of the house, remained closed. The grey light coming in from the dormer windows in the long, narrow room  made it easy to navigate the jumble of discarded household items during the day. For night wandering, she’d made a careful path through the assorted refuse that was easy to traverse with a low tinned lantern. The door remained closed, and the voices she’d heard seemed to have moved on to the servant’s quarters on the opposite wing that housed the attic storeroom.

         Curious, Zara crept from her hiding place and tiptoed to the door. She pressed her ear against it and listened. The old woman’s voice rang loud and clear beyond the wooden barrier. It was plain the cottager’s wife was used to speaking loudly for the benefit of her spouse.

               “. . . and don’t be worrying none about being alone up here, Maggie. We should have another girl or two in by the end of the week. Ah, there’s a good lass, you’ll be cozy and warm that room. And see, it overlooks the lake.”

        Zara heard the muffled reply of the so called Maggie and then girlish giggles.

       “Oh, yes.” The cottager’s wife went on, “As first to arrive, you have the first choice of a room. I’ll not hear of anyone turning you out to a less welcome room, so never ye mind about that. You have any trouble with any of the servants, you just come to me, you hear?”

        Damn! More of them to come. Zara nibbled her lower lip, and considered her options. She could flee in the night. She had coin, and some clothing that would allow her pass as a Gadja woman of some means. Still, she’d have to take lodgings at an Inn and she knew that a woman travelling alone was considered improper. It would raise more questions for her to arrive at a local inn unescorted right now, and she didn’t want anyone to be suspicious when the villagers in Lexford were searching for her. It was a little over a week since the Widow’s murder and if they were still searching for her, she might encounter trouble along the way if not at the inn itself. Besides, if she spent her coin wintering at an inn she’d deplete it quickly. It would be much easier to stay here for a little while, until she could figure out an alternative.

        The voices came nearer again. She realized they were heading toward the stairs, but retreated behind an old portrait leaning against the wall at an angle just to be safe. As she suspected, the female voices grew distant once more as they descended the stairs, leaving her alone on the third floor.

        She slipped out from behind the shadows of the portrait, and returned to her small ‘camp’ at the far end of the room. She slumped down on the bed, and nibbled at a meat pie she’d grabbed from the kitchens last night after the old couple retired. The pastry was very tasty. The old woman was a good cook. And there would more tasty delights to pilfer tonight, as she’d caught the fragrant aroma of roasting venison wafting through the house when she’d snuck down to the lady’s room this afternoon to look for reading material. She dared not go to the first floor during the day, not with the old couple in residence. And now that the master had returned—with his manservant and a girl—oh bother—she’d best be careful not to stray too far from the attics until after everyone retired for the night.


                                                  Chapter Eight

  Stephan sat before the fire in the study, his conscience doused in a generous libation of brandy. The flames swam before his eyes, fluid and sizzling, the red orange tongues licking the darkness and making it melt beneath their steady actions.

         The house was empty, still, in the midnight hour. The servants, the sparse few that resided here, had all gone to bed. Four of them, a miserly number, compared to the full staff that inhabited these thick, ancient walls before he fled. Jasper and Annie were sleeping in their room off the kitchen, while Brisbane and Maggie had each retreated to their attic rooms. He was alone in the main part of the Abbey, alone with his muddled thoughts, alone with the misery that never seemed to relent. Misery of a man betrayed by the woman he loved—and the brutal knowledge that her demise might very well be his own fault.

          He poured himself another glass of amber courage, and cradled the cool crystal between his palms. Coward, the house seemed to scream at him in the pensive silence. Only a weak man turns to strong drink to evade his conscience.   Julia may have been a light skirt, but she didn’t deserve to die for her indiscretion. She didn’t deserve to have her throat ripped out by a savage beast, by a cursed man who had once claimed to love her.

          Fool.  He tossed back the goblet and finished the fiery liquid in one long draught. He gasped in satisfaction as the harsh liquid burned through his throat and down into his belly.

          He was not a man given to melancholy, but the scandal of his wife’s peccadilloes, coupled with her violent death had made mincemeat of his heart and left only a hollow cavern where he once might have possessed a soul.

          Perhaps coming here was a mistake. He fled this place two years ago when his wife’s body was brought from the nearby woods where she’d been slain. After the funeral he’d had the house closed up and sent all the servants away, vowing to never come to this cursed place again. But thoughts of Julia stalked him wherever he went, and vicious nightmares claimed his unconscious mind whenever he closed his eyes and tried to sleep. It was apparent that running away from what happened here was not the answer.

         No, he must face his demons, at least the beautiful, dark haired temptress who once ruled his heart. He loved her still, despite her shocking betrayal of their vows. He would always love Julia, and may the devil take his soul for the fool he was for loving his tormentor.

         The heat of the fire and the soothing tendrils of warmth curling through his blood as the brandy seeped through his body made him drowsy. Stephan stretched his legs out in front of him, his booted heels resting on the carpet, his knees splayed and his hands curled over the arms of the chair. He tipped his head back and let his eyes close and his mind drift. Perhaps, in coming here, he could make peace with her death at last and vanquish the dark dreams that haunted his mind. Perhaps, he could find out what really happened to her that night, and stop imagining that he had transformed into a crazed creature and wreaked a primitive vengeance on her and her lover for conspiring to destroy him.

         The crisp, crackling sound of the fire echoed in the large study. It felt good to be home. He’d spent many happy days here as a boy, hunting in the woods, riding with his father, playing with his three sisters. The Abbey had been a cheerful place while his parents and siblings inhabited it. If only he could erase the blight of his disastrous marriage from this place. Her blood seemed to stain the wood of each room, her blood seemed to seep into the foundations and give birth to monsters and demons whose only purpose was to shackle his dark soul.

         Stirring from a light, inebriated doze, Stephan sighed as he opened his eyes. He started, sat forward and clutched the arms of the chair as he took in the apparition lingering near the door. It must be some trick of his imagination, too much alcohol after a long, wearying journey through a desolate winter landscape. His Julia could not be standing in the shadows watching him. Yet, the slight, dark haired lady in white bore a frightening resemblance to the woman he had loved to distraction, and lost. Or was it that he’d never really had her at all? Yes, truth might be a bitter drink but it had a way of cutting through a man, bringing instant sobriety.

        “Speak, spirit!” His bitterness rose up from somewhere within, chasing the stunned coward from his bones. “Don’t lurk and watch me from the shadows, speak, do your worst, damn me to hell if you will, I don’t care. I’ve been in hell these past years, all for you, Julia.”

         The spirit did not move. She seemed startled that he would speak to her, that he could see her at all. Perhaps she was not accustomed to being visible to the mortal realm. She retreated  into the deep shadows. All that remained of her was a halo of white against the stark cloak of black night evading the yellow flames.

         “Well, then, a fine ghost you turn out to be, too timid in death to speak to the man who made you thus.”

         “Not timidity but prudence binds my tongue.” Said she.

         Stephan knew in that instant that he was either too drunk or not drunk enough. The blood ceased to flow at the sound of her voice and his heart refused to pick up its erratic beat for a defiant moment. He gasped, struggling to keep his composure and not bolt from the cold stone room lit only by the eerie flicker of shadow and flame from the fire.

 copyright Lily Silver 2013