Beulah would smile as she uncovered the glass sphere shed brought out and set on the table at eventide, waiting.
Not that a ball made of a bit of glass had anything to do with it, yet that was what was expected. The gypsy might not have been an educated woman, but she knew what sold. She didnt need glass, or crystal, a bit of amethyst, a cup of still-wet tea leaves, or a rabbits foot to see, either. No, those knickknacks were for the customers, for those who needed to witness her using something solid, because the thought of her seeing pictures of what was to come in thin air would be enough to send them running. And you never scared away money.
Beulah heard a squeal from the tent that leaned against her sons vardo, little Boosul waking from sleep. Her people were stirring, coming out to light fires, to make ready for the day. True gypsies never slept in their spotless vardos, with shining brass and wafer-thin china hanging from the walls. Like Beulah, they lived in tents, hardy canvas tied across a frame of birch or ash. The vardos were kept for best. Beulah looked up to the rising sun, then again at the fields as the steamy mist of warming dew rose to greet the day. She didnt care for the people of this village, Heronsdene. She saw the dark shadow that enveloped each man and woman and trailed along, weighing them down as they went about their daily round. There were ghosts in this villageghosts who would allow the neighbors no rest.
As she reached down to pour scalding water into the teapot, the old womans face concertinad as a throbbing pain and bright light bore down upon her with no warning, a sensation with which she was well familiar. She dropped the kettle back into the embers and pressed her bony knuckles hard against her skull, squeezing her eyes shut against flames that licked up behind her closed eyelids. Fire. Again. She fought for breath, the heat rising up around her feet to her waist, making her old legs sweat, her hands clammy. And once more she came to Beulah, walking out from the very heart of the inferno, the younger woman she had not yet met but knew would soon come. It would not be long now; the time approachedof that she was sure. The woman was tall and well dressed, with black hairnot long hair, but not as short as shed seen on some of the gorja womenfolk in recent years. Beulah leaned against the vardo, the lurcher coming to stand at her mistresss side as if to offer her lean body as buttress. This woman, who walked amid the flames of Beulahs imagination, had known sadness, had lived with death. And though she now stepped forward alone, the grief was liftingBeulah could see it ascending like the morning cloud, rising up to leave her in peace. She was strong, this woman of her dreams, and . . . Beulah shook her head. The vision was fading; the woman had turned away from her, back into the flames, and was gone.
The gypsy matriarch held one hand against her forehead, still leaning against her vardo. She opened her eyes with care and looked about her. Only seconds had passed, yet she had seen enough to know that a time of great trouble was almost upon her. She believed the womanthe woman for whom she waitedwould be her ally, though she could not be sure. She was sure of three things, thoughthat the end of her days drew ever closer, that before she breathed her last, a woman she had never seen in her life would come to her, and that this woman, even though she might think of herself as ordinary, of little account in the wider world, still followed Death as he made his rounds. That was her calling, her work, what she was descended of gorja and gypsy to do. And Beulah Webb knew that here, in this place called Heronsdene, Death would walk among them soon enough, and there was nothing she could do to prevent such fate. She could only do her best to protect her people.
Excerpted from An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear Copyright © 2008 by Jacqueline Winspear. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt And Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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