Joshua Collins had only just entered the study, his mind on Barnabas'
forthcoming voyage to Martinique, when Riggs knocked tentatively
on the door. "Begging your pardon, sir-"
"What is it, Riggs?"
"There's a person at the door who insists upon speaking to you, Mr. Collins."
"Who is it?"
Riggs hesitated until Joshua raised his eyebrows. "A-gypsy, sir."
Now Joshua frowned. "Send him away," he ordered.
Riggs, a superstitious man, didn't move. "He's asked permission to make camp along the southern boundary. It seems one of the women is ill-"
Not wanting to be bothered any further, Joshua waived his hand impatiently. "I'll speak to him."
The man stood proudly in the foyer, his dark eyes moving around
the drawing room beyond. He turned upon hearing Joshua's approach.
"I am Joshua Collins. You wanted to speak to me?"
The gypsy bowed slightly. "I am called Mikal. Our caravan is on its way south to meet with others for the summer. But-Raka is unwell."
"Who is this-Raka?"
"An old woman, sir. But she was the nurse of our Princess Taya, and Taya wishes for us to make camp until Raka is well enough again to travel."
"And-how long will that take to occur?" Joshua asked, eyes narrowed.
"Taya says only a few weeks. She offers to pay you some tribute in return for your kindness."
Joshua felt a grudging respect for this gypsy "Princess" offer of payment. "You may camp, but if there is any trouble-"
Mikel bowed again. "There will be none. I give you my word of honor. If that means anything to someone as important as yourself. Taya will be most grateful"
"You allowed them to set up camp?" Abigail questioned,
looking at her brother as if he had taken leave of his senses.
"Gypsies? They are all thieves and liars-"
Her sharp, dark glance fell on Naomi. "Kidnappers of
children. You had best keep Sarah inside until they've gone,
"Really, Abigail," her younger brother Jerimiah scornfully responded. "I think it's interesting. Where are they camping, Joshua?"
"In the oak grove between here and the village," Joshua informed them, concentrating on his food once again.
Jerimiah caught Barnabas' eye as silent plans were made. But Abigail saw that look. "The two of you should stay away from those people," she warned. "They are evil. The Devil's own."
"What do you think they'll do, Aunt?" Barnabas asked, trying to not smile. "Place a curse on us?"
"Don't you be flippant with me, Barnabas. Respect for your elders is something you surely ought to have learned by now.
Jerimiah managed to look extremely serious. "Don't worry, Abigail. We simply intend to check things out in Joshua's stead. We'll come to no harm."
They heard the sounds of the camp even before they saw the fire.
A mandolin was being played softly, its notes strangely soothing
to the ear. There were four brightly covered caravans arranged
in a semi-circle around the campfire. Three men sat on a
fallen tree, one of them creating the music. All were closely
watching the young girl who knelt before the fire.
From their angle of view, Barnabas and Jerimiah could see that she was slim, with gold and silver bracelets on her arms. Her raven's wing black hair was long and fell in wild abandon around her shoulders. As the two men stood there, undecided how to approach, the girl rose gracefully to her bare feet and turned, her dark eyes seeking out the visitors. Both men were stunned by the loveliness of that face. It contained a wild, untamed beauty that neither man had ever encountered.
She smiled. "Do not spy on us," she told them. "Come. Be welcome." Realizing that outsiders were present, the three gypsy men stood, ready for whatever might occur. The girl kept her eyes on the newcomers as she said, "Play, Mikal. Make music for our guests."
Coming near to the fire, Barnabas spoke first. "We weren't spying."
Her eyes sparkled. "You were curious. Understandable. I am Taya."
Barnabas bowed slightly. "I am Barnabas Collins and this is my uncle, Jerimiah."
"Collins," she repeated. "Yes. Yet neither of you granted permission for us to make camp here."
"That was my father," Barnabas informed her.
She indicated the fallen log, now vacated by her friends. "Please. Sit. What are you curious about?"
"I've never been to a gypsy camp before," Barnabas confessed.
"And you, Jerimiah Collins?"
"I visited on in Europe a few years ago," he told her.
"Consider yourselves most welcome here," Taya said in her soft, barely accented voice.
Mikel spoke, the tempo of the music he played beginning to increase. He sense that these two rich young guyaos might be the source of gold or silver. "Dance for our guests, Taya."
Taya appeared to hesitate for a moment until Barnabas urged, "Please."
The music's beat became an echo of Barnabas' heart beat as Taya whirled around the fire, her bracelets and charms reflecting the flickering light, seeming to outline her lithe form. On more than one occasion, Barnabas felt his eyes drawn to hers. She was like some wild forest creature, forever elusive, just out of reach. As the music came to an abrupt end, Taya knelt before the guyao visitors.
An older woman opened a caravan door. "Taya."
She looked up. "What is it, Mela?"
"Raka calls your name."
"I will be there." She turned back to the men, who had risen to their feet as she came to hers. "I must go now. You are welcome here anytime," she repeated.
"Thank you," Barnabas said.
When Jerimiah held out some coins, she waved them away. "I do not want your money," she told them, ignoring the way Mikel turned away from the fire. "Good night."
A distance away from the camp, Jerimiah looked at his nephew.
"What did you think of your first visit to a gypsy camp?"
"It was-interesting," Barnabas admitted. "That girl-"
Jerimiah nodded. "Yes. She seemed better educated than those I met in Europe."
"I wonder if we'll see her again?" Barnabas mused.
His uncle smiled knowingly. "I don't doubt you will, at any rate. Princess Taya seemed quite taken with you."
"She danced for both of us," Barnabas insisted.
"No," Jerimiah disagreed. "She never looked once at me. I think it's safe to assume that she will arrange for you to meet again."
Jerimiah's teasing was forgotten over the next few days as Barnabas began to finalize his plans for the trip to Martinique. He had written yet another letter to young Josette du Pres, the daughter of the man his father was sending him to see on business, and was beginning to look forward to his journey. He was riding back from Collinsport when he saw Taya, carrying a woven basket, walking toward the path that would take her back toward the encampment. Reigning in his black stallion, Barnabas came up beside her. "How is your friend?" he asked.
Taya shrugged. "Raka is an old woman. She was my mother's nurse before she was mine. I have been gathering herbs with which to make a medicine that will make her stronger. You have not paid us another visit," she said.
"I've been busy."
"Yes," she said, her deep eyes boring into his. "You are going on a trip."
"I'm leaving in another month," Barnabas told her, dismounting to walking at her side. "You're not like I pictured a gypsy would be."
Her smile was tinged with bitterness now. "Why? Because I speak such good English? Because I am not dirty-? When I was ten, I went to live with my mother's cousin. Guyaos. They tried to make me into a lady."
"But-why are you here, then?"
"You cannot understand why I would choose to live my life now over being a guyao lady," she said. "My grandfather may been guyao, but my gypsy blood is strong. There is a freedom to gypsy life that guyao can only wish for and dream about. Even you, Mr. Collins. You secretly long for freedom from the demands society and your birthright place upon you."
"What did your cousins say when you left?"
She smiled, lifting her shoulders. "I do not know. They had arranged for my marriage to a guyao. On the eve of our wedding, I ran away to the nearest gypsy camp." She looked in the direction of her own camp. "I must go. Raka grows worse. We will meet again, Mr. Collins."
Barnabas watched her walk away, vanishing into the dark woods, then mounted his horse and continued home.
She was on the road again the next day, and every day for the
next two weeks. Barnabas began looking forward to their
discussions. Taya was an intelligent young woman as well
as beautiful, and Barnabas found himself regretting their differing
positions in life.
As he entered the house, his father called him into the study. "I've decided that you should leave for Matinique immediately," Joshua informed his son without looking up from his desk. "There is a ship sailing tomorrow night for the islands."
Barnabas frowned. "But, the du Pres are not expecting me for another half month. The Count will not be returning from Paris until then. Why the sudden need for haste, Father?"
"I will not allow any scandal-"
His frown deepened. "Scandal? I don't-"
Joshua lifted angry eyes to his son. "Do you deny having assignations with that gypsy girl?"
"Assigna-" Barnabas shook his head. "We've met a few times on the road and talked," he admitted.
"You've met her every day for the last last two weeks," Joshua accused.
"Taya is a friend. Am I no longer allowed to choose my own friends?"
"No if you refuse to use sense in doing so. You will be on board that ship tomorrow night," Joshua declared, ending the conversation.
Taya was bending over the fire when she sensed another's presence
and turned to Mikel. "I am going out for a walk,"
she informed him. She turned away and moved into the woods,
stopping directly before Barnabas. "You are troubled,"
she told him.
"I am leaving tomorrow night. Father does not approve of-"
Her lips thinned. "That does not surprise me. So, I will not see you again."
"Probably not," Barnabas agreed.
"Let me see your hand," she said gently.
Barnabas held it out, palm up. "I thought you didn't believe in such things," he told her, half-teasing.
"I am a gypsy," she said simply. "And there are those who believe I have the power to see things," she murmured, turning his palm up to the moonlight. "I see great happiness-and great tragedy." Her eyes held fear. "You must not go, Barnabas."
"I have no choice. Everything is arranged."
Taya closed her eyes. "I see two women-" She looked at him, suddenly pale, and crossed herself.
"Taya? What is wrong?"
"Your death. I saw your death," she told him. "But-it will not be the end."
"What are you talking about?"
"I cannot explain," she insisted. "I must go. Raka is in crisis. She may live or die by how these next hours go."
He knew he couldn't hold her, knew as well that her 'vision' was nothing more than sorrow at the ending of their friendship.
"Good-bye then. I will never forget you."
Her smile was sad. "You will. There will come a day when you no longer recall that I was ever here. Good-bye, Barnabas Collins." She turned and ran back to the camp as if the Furies themselves were on her heels.
Two days later, Joshua was working in his study when Rigg's voice
disturbed him. "I said Mr. Collins was busy, miss."
"And I said I would see him," a woman's voice countered. The door to the study opened and a young gypsy girl entered the room.
Joshua rose, anger evident in his face. "What is the meaning of this?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't stop her- Shall I bring Ben to drag her out?"
"I am Taya, Mr. Collins," she announced, ignoring Riggs' threat of violence. "I have something of great importantance to tell you."
Joshua met those dark eyes and found himself curious. "Leave us, Riggs." He stood before the fire, hands behind his back. "What will this imformation cost me, young woman?"
She held her ground proudly before a look that had sent grown men cowering. "A great deal more than gold if you do not listen and take heed."
"Your son left last night for Martinique."
"That is common knowledge," he scoffed.
"This trip will change everyone in this house-and possibly destroy your family."
"Bah," he scoffed again. "I do not believe in curses, gypsy."
"Then you should learn. For this family is under a powerful curse. But I did not set it. You sent your son away early because you were afraid he might fall in love with a gypsy girl. You sent him to what will end in his death and in the deaths of others. I did love your son, Mr. Collins. But I also know my place. As did he."
"Have you quite finished?" Joshua asked, shaking in anger.
"Then listen to my words. You and your wagons will be off of Collins property by nightfall-or I will have the constable pay you a visit and have you forcibly removed."
Taya's chin lifted. "Your threats are unnecessary, Joshua Collins. Raka is well now, and we were leaving anyway. We will leave and shake the dust of this place from us. And we will pray that the evil here does not follow us."
Joshua spoke with barely surpressed fury. "I believe this interview is finished."
Taya shook her head. "I pity you, Joshua Collins. Only you will remain untouched by the tragedy that is to come."
She bowed respectfully, then turned on her heel and departed as he ordered.
It would be many months before Joshua Collins would have cause to recall his strange conversation with the gypsy Taya, as he sat in the study of the New House, waiting for Ben Stokes to chain Barnabas' coffin as it lay in the secret room of the mausoleum--for what Joshua could only hope was an eternity . . .