Authors: Wendi Sotis
The Gypsy Blessing
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher and author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
First draft was written in 2012 and 2013, and posted serially beginning March 13, 2013 and ending September 19, 2013.
Several passages in this novel are paraphrased from
the works of Jane Austen
Cover art and illustrations by Matthew Sotis Copyright © 2013
The Gypsy Blessing copyright © 2013 Wendi Sotis
This book is dedicated to
my cover artist,
and my best friend,
Table of Contents
Summer 1810 ~ Hertfordshire, England
Elizabeth Bennet strolled into a clearing, spying a woman lying along the bank of a stream, her body posed in a most unnatural position—one arm twisted beneath her and her face covered with mud. Throwing her sack over one shoulder, Elizabeth hoisted her skirts and rushed to the woman’s side. The woman’s breath came too quickly for sleep, though her eyes were closed.
“Miss? Are you well?” Elizabeth shook the woman’s shoulder, but she received no response. Blood pooled on the ground, prompting a more thorough examination of the lady’s condition. Straightening the woman’s arm, Elizabeth felt the bone, finding it to be sound. Further assessment revealed a lump the size of a goose egg at the back of her head and a red stain slowly spreading across the lower portion of her skirt.
“Please excuse me, madam, but I must do what I can to assist you,” Elizabeth murmured before she lifted the lady’s skirt, uncovering a nasty gash upon her calf.
Covering her patient with the blanket she had brought along to sit upon when she reached her destination, Elizabeth cared for the wounds. The bleeding now halted, she retrieved the healing herbs that the housekeeper always packed in her sack, knowing Elizabeth had a tendency towards collecting scratches and bruises during her rambles about the countryside. After wrapping the woman’s leg in the cloth that had been holding her mid-day meal, Elizabeth moistened her handkerchief in the stream and washed the mud from her patient’s face, then wound the lady’s scarf around her head.
Even whilst treating these painful injuries, she has not awakened. I should go for help, but the nearest household is a half-hour’s walk.
Elizabeth decided to stay a while longer to assess the situation further before seeking help.
Elizabeth looked about for a clean place to sit but saw nothing close by.
After kneeling to help this lady, my gown is already ruined—adding a few grass stains will not make any difference now.
She sat on the grass, and her eyes wandered over her patient.
Her style of dress is peculiar; perhaps she is a gypsy.
Although the lady was of middle age, she wore her long, dark hair loosely, unlike any female of her acquaintance. The long sleeves of her white blouse billowed around her arms, and the tight blue vest worn over the blouse seemed to act as a corset. Her skirt, made of a sturdy brown material almost as coarse as sackcloth, was frayed about the hem, possibly due to the lady’s going barefoot.
To walk barefoot in the grass—how glorious that must feel!
If Elizabeth had not serious business at hand, she would have removed her boots and stockings and tried it.
The woman moaned and brought her hand to her head.
“Oh, thank the good Lord you have awakened. I was so concerned for you. How are you feeling?”
The woman made no answer and rolled away from Elizabeth, pushing herself from the ground. She cried out in pain as the arm that was twisted earlier gave way.
Elizabeth moved quickly to assist her.
Startled by her sudden action, the woman pulled away from Elizabeth’s helping hands and fell to the ground.
Elizabeth gasped. “Did I frighten you?”
The woman sat up once again. Leaning her elbows on her knees, she took her head into her hands.
“I promise I will do you no harm, miss.” Elizabeth hesitated. “I tended your wounds before you awoke. You have suffered a cut on your leg and a nasty bump to the head.”
The gypsy looked up and stared at her in response.
Does she not understand English?
“Were you wearing a cloak? I found one downstream during my walk.”
The lady nodded, indicating that she understood.
“I will fetch it. Wait for me here; I am afraid you may come to additional harm if you try to walk without assistance.” Elizabeth took a step away, then turned back, pointing at the blanket which was now discarded on the ground. “Please use my blanket, so you do not catch a chill.”
The woman wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and bowed her head in thanks.
Elizabeth rushed to the weeping beech tree where she had seen the cloak caught among the roots that jutted out of the stream. Upon her return to the lady’s side, she folded the cloak and placed it on the ground next to the lady, explaining, “I had hung it to dry, but it remains very wet.”
The gypsy nodded.
Elizabeth reached into her sack, removing the cup, bread, and cheese Mrs. Hill had packed for her luncheon. “Will you take nourishment to help you to gain some strength?”
The lady shook her head.
Elizabeth arched one brow and took a bite of each, then offered it to the lady again. This time, the gypsy took the food from Elizabeth’s hand.
Is it fear that I mean her harm or a sign of respect that causes her to behave in this manner?
Elizabeth filled the cup with cool water from the stream. This time, the lady took the offering without hesitation. When Elizabeth took a drink from the same cup after she had done so, the gypsy looked at her with wide eyes.
“Are your people nearby? May I help you home?”
The gypsy nodded.
Elizabeth stood close by and smiled when the lady managed to stand without assistance. As Elizabeth bent to retrieve their belongings—her sack, the gypsy’s cloak, and the blanket which had fallen to the ground when the gypsy stood—she heard a grunt. Turning, she found the lady was again on the ground.
“Ah, I see you are as stubborn as I! I would not like to remain idle if I believed I could do for myself either, but, in truth, I do not think you can manage alone.” Elizabeth moved slowly, holding out her hand to offer assistance.
The woman eyed her cautiously for a few moments and then nodded, taking advantage of the proffered aid. After rising, she attempted to walk alone but began to sway.
Elizabeth quickly took hold of the gypsy’s arms. “I fear the blow to your head must be making you dizzy. Please, allow me to assist you.”
While steadying the lady with one hand, Elizabeth again reached down to retrieve their things, draping the blanket around the gypsy’s shoulders and handing the lady her cloak. “Truly, you have nothing to fear from me. I promise not to tell a soul where your camp is located.”
After a minute or two, the woman placed one arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders, and Elizabeth wrapped one of hers around the lady’s waist. The lady indicated the direction she wished to go.
A few minutes later, the woman asked, “Your name?”
Elizabeth smiled widely, happy she had won a small portion of the lady’s trust. “Elizabeth Bennet. And you?”
Elizabeth was curious about gypsies, but she did not wish to offend and kept her questions to herself as they made their way through the woods. Without warning, Simza began to whistle a melody resembling a birdsong, startling Elizabeth.
Several yards ahead, a dark-haired man of medium height stepped out from behind a tree. His blouse was similar to the gypsy lady’s, open at the neck, and he wore no neck cloth. Elizabeth hid her blush at his immodesty by lowering her head as she bobbed a slight curtsey. The man only eyed her with suspicion in return.
Simza spoke a few words in what must have been her native tongue, and the man’s apprehensiveness visibly decreased, waving Elizabeth away from her. Simza said a few more words in an authoritative tone, and the man ran off into the woods.
When the man was out of sight, Simza gestured that Elizabeth should sit beside her. “He gets Rom Baro, my man.”
“I look forward to meeting him!”
Simza began to hum a song. Intrigued by the tune, so different from any she had heard before, Elizabeth was content to sit and listen.
A few minutes later, the man returned with another, who spoke to Simza for a minute or two in their own language before he turned to Elizabeth. “Thank you for helping my wife, Miss Bennet. We are forever grateful.” He bowed.
Elizabeth noted he sounded much more comfortable speaking English than his wife. “There is nothing to thank me for, Mr. Baro. Of course, I could not leave Simza in her condition.”
He chuckled. “
means I’m the leader of our tribe, but you can call me Fonso. We know the general opinion of us, Miss Bennet—most would have run away from Simza in fright or disgust, no matter her injuries. Your assistance was... unique.”
He turned back to Simza, handed her a small satchel, and helped her to rise. Looking at Elizabeth, Simza uttered a few sentences in her own language and removed a pendant on a chain from the pouch, placing it over Elizabeth’s head.
Elizabeth took the necklace in her hand and gasped. A magnificent oval-shaped sapphire was surrounded by intricate, layered silver filigree. The overall shape of the outermost layer of filigree reminded her of a five-pointed star. The sapphire had a tiny dark mark in the centre. She was certain it was a flaw in the stone, but the odd placement of the stone—the oval was sideways—and the position of the spot made her think it looked a little like an eye.
Fonso told her, “I have given permission for my Simza to grant you a blessing for helping her. If you accept this gift, her blessing will bring you love and great happiness. The charm is for good luck.”
“Truly, you are much too generous.” She turned to Simza. “It is lovely, but perhaps you will need the charm yourself.”
Simza shook her head and said in an agitated tone, “No! Belongs Elizabeth Bennet.” She pronounced the name carefully, and then spoke in her own language to her husband.
“Simza has the gift of
. She has been saving this for you for a long time.”
?” Confusion made Elizabeth’s head spin.
Simza nodded and crossed her arms across her chest, indicating she would brook no resistance.
Would a refusal signify an insult to these people?
Elizabeth tried to think of what she had with her that she could gift the woman in return, but there was nothing. A little embarrassed, she replied, “I thank you. As your cloak is still wet, please keep the blanket.”
Simza bowed her head in thanks. She spoke a few words to her husband.
Fonso said, “Simza says ‘A happy life it will be, Elizabeth Bennet—but you must believe.’”
Elizabeth made her goodbyes, and then Fonso himself escorted her the short distance to the main road. As she made her way home from there, she could not help but wonder what Simza meant by her odd statements.