CHAPTER 1 The Greek Maiden and the English Lord (continued from Home Page)
“My husband’s cotton textiles business.” Gertrude twisted her gloves. “It
is not that he needs the money, mind you, he inherited quite a bit from his late
father. He just likes to make more.” She appeared guilty. “Although trade is
not quite accepted by the ton.”
“Maybe trade is not, but money is…and trade brings money.”
Gertrude appeared pleased. “We just came from Lyon, where we bought
silk fabric. We will be leaving tomorrow with our packet ship for England. Is
silk right for us at this time?”
“I do not see anything wrong with the choice, but I do see machines,
many of them, for the cotton. The looms will help your business grow.”
Lady Charleton thanked Mirela. A shadow flitted over her features. “My
husband’s uncle is quite ill with consumption. The doctors claim he does not
have much time left.”
“A change of climate could help his condition.”
“His son is returning to England from his trip abroad, and now my
younger sister Charlotte has confided in me that she is in love with him,”
Gertrude said with lowered voice.
Lily’s long, honey-blonde braids brushed the pages of the book as she
labored over the words. With one ear cocked toward the tent, she listened to
the conversation, waiting for the cue to usher Lady Charleton out the back.
“Charlotte just turned twenty-one,” Gertrude was saying to Mirela, “I am
not surprised of her interest for Edward. Indeed he is wealthy and quite
handsome. Even I had a crush on him at one time, but that was so long ago.”
“Hmm, and you want to know if they are right for each other.” Mirela’s
eyes narrowed as her hands hovered above the ball. “Yes, I sense a woman
next to him. She is attractive and brightly clothed, and appears to be important
in his life, for they are holding hands.”
“Oh, that sounds like her! Is there anything more you can tell me? Will
there be a wedding?”
Two drops of candle wax landed on the page that Lily was reading.
Disgusted, she moved the book to the side, not wanting to damage it and
turned her gaze on the shadows in the tent. Mirela’s turbaned head was close
to the lady’s plumed head. She gave an inaudible response.
Lily could easily imagine what was being said, filling in the blank spots.
Each city they visited was different, but the people were all alike with similar
emotions, aspirations and dreams. The hushed conversation inside the tent was
no different; a possible marriage, illness, and impending death.
The rattling sound of a carriage caught Lily’s attention. It was unusual
for carriages to come through the narrow alley and besides, they were quite
expensive and only the rich rode in them. The clattering sound stopped. Lily
arose and hurried toward the alley with her candle to see who it was. She
peered down the pitch-black alley, shifting the sputtering tallow candle
towards that direction. Unable to see anything, she leaned forward, her lit
candle revealing a closed carriage and horses.
The scene before her reminded her of a story she had once read, where the
handsome prince drove up in his plush carriage to rescue the maiden in distress,
but where was the maiden? She shook her head, realizing that she was becoming
too fanciful. It must be Lady Charleton’s carriage, she was sure of it.
A cackling sound followed by the smell of the stark, pungent smoke
interrupted her daydreaming. She glanced down in alarm at the flames soaring
through her hair. Her heart jumped to her throat. She dropped the candle and cried
out, but nothing came out of her mouth except a croaking sound. What was wrong
What came next happened so quickly that it would remain a blur in her
memory. Someone pushed her to the ground, rolling her in some thick, scratchy
fabric. The scent of sandalwood and spice replaced the smell of smoke.
“Ne vous enquietez pas, ma petite,” said a man’s voice, deep and soothing.
Lily struggled to be free, for she did not want to be a captive in his arms,
whomever he was. The warm wool was lifted from her. Trembling like a leaf,
feeling the coldness of the evening press upon her, she arose. The tall shape of the
man kept a respectful distance as she swiped at her face and clothes. She felt
stronger by the minute.
“Merci, Monsieur,” Lily rasped. Her throat still felt raw from the smoke. “I
do not know what I would have done without your help.”
“Ah, so you also speak English.”
Lily was silent, unsure as to how to reply to this man’s gentle probing. If he
found out she was a gypsy, who spoke several languages, he would turn his heel,
checking his pockets to make sure she did not steal something.
“I was in that carriage when I saw your head glowing like a ball of fire in the
night,” he said. “I used my coat to put the flames out. You should be more careful
in the future.”
Lily was touched by his words. His gentle tone was that of a father
addressing a child. A gadjo speaking in such a manner was unusual.
“Good-bye!” Mirela announced from inside the tent.
Lily’s head swiveled towards the tent. Her grandmother’s call could not be
ignored. “I must go!” She dashed back to the tent, thankful for the candlelight
inside the tent guiding her way. She threw the black wig on her head and pulled
the flap open to reveal the small frame of Lady Charleton standing there.
Lily curtsied, her head low. “Please follow me, my Lady,” she said, grabbing
her gloved arm and leading her towards the direction of the street.
Gertrude pulled her arm away. “I can find my way.”
Lily watched the lady glide forward. She wondered if the man would still be
there. Maybe he was the lady’s coachman. As if reading her mind, the man’s tall
“What a surprise to see you here!” Lady Charleton exclaimed. She clung to
him as they walked away, their dark shapes blending into the night.
Lily stared at their retreating shadows, feeling deflated. She did not even
know the name of her rescuer.
Gertrude sank into the plush seat of the carriage. “I was expecting Douglas to
collect me. You can imagine my surprise when you showed up instead! I suppose
my husband was still busy finishing up with his… transaction?”
“He duly sends his apologies.”
“I thank you for playing the gallant!” Gertrude replied, laughing. “We were
expecting you earlier in the day.”
“I just arrived an hour ago. Our ship struck inclement weather just as it was
departing from Italy, which made for an arduous journey.”
“I’ll have you know that delays in shipping are quite common these days.
Indeed, our textiles are always late for some reason or another. So, Edward, how
were your travels? You must tell me all about your trip.”
“Extraordinary, and always something new to see or do.” He discussed a few
highlights of the countries he visited.
“You took so long in returning, we thought you might have met some
beautiful exotic woman and decided to live on some secluded island with her for
the rest of your life!”
Edward laughed. “It was not like that at all. I assure you, I am still a free
“That is good. There are some people besides your father and us who are
glad that you are returning to England.”
After the last customer left, Lily dragged her sore and tired body into the tent.
She pulled off her ragged black wig and combed her fingers through her singed
hair, thinking about the tall stranger who saved her from the fire. Perfumed scents
from the female customers clung in the air as she greeted her grandmother, whose
head was bent over the table counting the coins.
“We did very well today.” Mirela looked up at Lily and blinked. “What
happened to your hair?”
“It was nothing. My braid got caught in the candle,” Lily mumbled.
“Come, sit down. There is something important I must say to you.” Mirela’s
fleshy hand sought Lily’s, guiding her to the stool. “I had a dream last night, a
prophetic vision, where a young woman I knew came and took you away. I
woke up feeling terrified and did not know what it meant until this evening when
Lady Charleton appeared.”
“Lady Charleton? What are you saying?”
“The time has come for you to leave us, Lily, and the reason? It is here, a lie
that I have lived with for a decade, that has been knocking on my heart heavily,
seeking to be free.” Mirela pounded her chest. “You must know that I am not your
Lily sat motionless, stunned into silence. How could this be? Mirela was all
the family she had.
“You always wondered why you stood out from the other gypsies, your tall
height, your fair hair and blue eyes and I told you lies. They were all lies!” Mirela
sighed once more. “Your parents were not gypsies. Your mother was not my
daughter. You are a gadjo.”