The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 8: The Gypsy Fortune Teller

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HOUSE PARTY
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900

 

CHAPTER VIII
THE GYPSY FORTUNE -TELLER

THERE had fallen a pause in the round of merrymaking. After a week of picnics and parties, lawn fetes and tennis tournaments, there came a day for which no special entertainment had been planned. It was a hot morning, and the girls were out under the trees: Betty in the swing, with a book in her lap, as usual, Joyce on a camp-stool near by, making a sketch of her, and Eugenia swinging idly in a hammock.

The Little Colonel had been swinging with her, but something had called her to the house, and a deep silence fell on the little group after her departure. Betty, lost in her book, and Joyce, intent on her sketch, did not seem to notice it, but presently Eugenia sat up in the hammock and gave her pillow an impatient thump.

I'm glad that I don't have to live in the country the year round!"Whew! how deadly stupid it is here!" she exclaimed." I'm glad that I don't have to live in the country the year round! Nothing to do --- nothing to see --- I'd turn to a vegetable in a little while and strike root. I wish something exciting would happen, for I'm bored stiff."

Betty looked up from her story in astonishment. "Why, I think it is lovely here!" she cried. "I'd never get tired of Locust in a hundred years!"

Eugenia smiled, a pitying, amused sort of smile that brought a flush to Betty's check. There was a tinge of a sneer in it that seemed to say, "Oh, you poor thing, of course you like it. You have never known any better."

Betty's eyes went back to her book again. Eugenia, thrusting one little foot from a mass of pink ruffles, gave an impatient push against the ground with the toe of her slipper, which set the hammock to swinging violently.

"Ho-hum!" she yawned, discontently. "I wish that we could go down to the gypsy camp that we passed yesterday."

"So do I," agreed Joyce. "It looked so picturesque with the tents and the white covered wagons, and that old crone bending over the campfire. I know a woman at home who had her fortune told by a gypsy, and every single thing that was told her came true."

"I wonder how they can tell," said Eugenia.

"By the lines in their hands. It is as plain as the alphabet to some people. They can tell how long you're going to live, whether you'll be married or not, and what sort of a future you're to have. They say that there are some lines in your hand that mean wealth, and some health, and there are stars for success and crosses for losses and all sorts of signs."

"Oh, how interesting!" cried Betty, again pausing in her story, and spreading out her little brown hands, to examine them. Eugenia held up one of her slim palms, and studied it intently, tracing the lines with a tapering white forefinger.

"Here's a star in my hand," she cried, excitedly, "and all sorts of queer lines and marks that I never noticed before. I wonder which is the marriage line. Oh, girls, I'm just wild to have my fortune told. Let's ride down to the camp before lunch."

"Costs too much," said Joyce, holding her sketch off at arm's length and studying the effect through half-shut eyes. "Rob Moore said that his brother Edward went over to the camp with a party, several nights ago, and they had to pay a dollar apiece. That bars me out, for dollars don't grow on bushes at my house. Besides, Bob said his brother said that they are a not real gypsies. The people around here think they are a set of strolling horse thieves. Mister Edward says that the old woman looks like a Florida cracker and talks like one too, but she vows that she is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and was born on the banks of the Nile."

"That settles it!" cried Eugenia, "I am going."  She turned the sparkling rings on her finger and watched them reflect the light as she spoke. "We'll all go. It will be my treat. I haven't touched my allowance since I've been here, and papa gave me ten dollars more than usual this month. There isn't any place to spend money here but at the grocery and meat shop, and it's burning a hole in my purse. Only four dollars for all of us. That isn't very much."

"Only four dollars," thought Betty lifting startled eyes and thinking of the five nickels with which she hid set forth on her journey. It seemed a fortune.

"Say that you will go," insisted Eugenia. "I'll think you're mean things if you don't, for it will give me more pleasure to take you than anything I can possibly think of."

"Yes, I'll be glad to go," said Joyce. "it is awfully sweet of you to stand treat, Eugenia."

" I think so, too," exclaimed Betty, adding her t thanks. Joyce rose, gathering up her sketching materials.

"Are you going to the house?" asked Eugenia "Then ask Lloyd if she won't send word to Alec to saddle the ponies, and tell her we want her to take a short ride with us before lunch. Don't say where we are going. We'll surprise her."

"All right," answered Joyce, moving off down the path.

"And Joyce," called Eugenia after her, "please tell Eliot to brush my hat and put some new laces in my boots. I'll be there by the time the ponies are at the house. Don't you think it will be fun ? " she added, turning to Betty, when they were left alone. In the rôle of Lady Bountiful she felt very friendly and gracious.

"Yes, indeed!" cried Betty. " I think it will be perfectly lovely. It is so generous of you, Eugenia, to spend so much for our pleasure!"

"Oh, that's nothing," answered Eugenia, loftily. "Plenty more where that came from."

On the way to the house, Joyce met Mrs. Sherman driving toward her in a dog-cart. "Do you want to drive down to the post-office with me?" she asked. "There is room for one more."

Joyce shook her head and walked on, singing gaily, over her shoulder, "Other fish to fry, so it can't be I. Thank you kindly, ma'am!"

"Eugenia, Elizabeth, do either of you want to go?" Mrs. Sherman asked, stopping the dog-cart beside the hammock.

"No, I believe not, thank you," said Eugenia languidly. "It's so hot this morning."

Betty's mouth and eyes both opened in astonishment at the excuse Eugenia gave, and her godmother smiled at the sight.

"Well, Elizabeth," she said, playfully, " I see that you are not going to leave me in the lurch. I knew that I wouldn't have to go begging far for company."

"Oh, I'd love to go, godmother," cried Betty, "if it was only any other time. But I've just been invited to ride over to the gypsy camp with the girls."

"To the gypsy camp!" echoed Mrs. Sherman, in surprise. "Why are you going there?"

"To have our fortunes told," answered the unsuspicious child, adding, gratefully, "Isn't it good of Eugenia?  She is going to pay for all of us."

A smothered exclamation broke from Eugenia's lips and she darted an angry look at Betty. There was a shadow of annoyance on Mrs. Sherman's face as she saw it.

"But you mustn't go there," she said. "I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but I couldn't think for a moment of allowing Lloyd to go there. They are a rough, low set of people, --- gamblers and horse thieves. It wouldn't be proper for you little girls to go near them. I intended to mention the matter to Lloyd when I first heard that they had camped in the Valley, and tell her to avoid taking you on any of the roads leading to the camp. But I forgot it until you had ridden away. It would have worried me all the time you were out had I not known that Lloyd is a discreet child for her age, and she heard so much said about them when they were here last summer. I have never thought to mention it since that first day."

"I'm so sorry," said Eugenia; "I had set my heart on having my fortune told."

"Mrs. Sherman tapped the wheel of the dog-cart with the lash of her whip, and sat considering. Presently she said, "Of course there isn't any truth in the fortunes they tell. One person knows just as much about the future as another. But I am sorry for your disappointment, for I know at your age such things are entertaining. How would it do for me to call at Miss Allison MacIntyre's while I am out, and ask her to come up to dinner to-night? She is a great friend of mine and knows enough about palmistry to tell some very interesting fortunes. She can amuse young people better than any one I ever knew.

Her two nephews Malcolm and Keith MacIntyre came out from Louisville for a short visit yesterday, and I'll invite them, too. They are jolly boys, and I'm sure you will find them far more entertaining than any of the gypsies. What do you say to that plan? Will it make up for the disappointment?"

"Yes, indeed!" answered Betty, and Eugenia smiled her approval, for she had heard Lloyd talk about the MacIntyre boys, and had been hoping to see them. But when Mrs. Sherman had driven on, she turned to Betty with an angry face.

"Tattletale," she said, in a sneering tone. "Why did you go and spoil everything? If you had kept still we could have gone and nobody would have been the wiser. Now it will be no end of trouble to get there without her finding it out."

"You don't mean that you are going after all that godmother has said?" cried Betty, with a look of horror in her big brown eyes. "Why, a wild Arab couldn't treat his host with such disrespect as that after he'd eaten his salt."

Eugenia's black eyes flashed dangerously. "Yes, 'Miss Prunes and Prisms, I am going, I don't care what you say. I have made up my mind to have my fortune told by the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, that was born on the banks of the Nile, and all the king's horses and all the king's men can't make me change it again. It is foolish of Cousin Elizabeth to be so particular, and I am going to do as I please. I always do at home, no matter what papa says. I've never had to mind anybody all my life, and I'll certainly not begin it now that I am in my teens. It is all nonsense about it not being proper for us to go to the camp. Cousin Elizabeth is mighty nice and sweet, but she's an old fogy to talk that way. And she needn't think she has stopped me. I may not get there to-day, but I'll go to that camp before I go back to New York if it's the last thing I do."

She sprang out of the hammock and walked haughtily down the path, her head held high, and her pink ruffles switching angrily from side to side. Betty followed at a safe distance, reaching the house in time to see Joyce and Lloyd come down, ready for their ride. She would have made some excuse to stay at home if she thought that Eugenia intended to carry out her plans at once; but thinking she would surely not attempt it until a later day, she mounted with the others and started down the avenue.

At the gate, as they turned into the public road, they spied a noisy little cavalcade racing down the pike toward them. Rob Moore led the charge, and two strangers were following hard behind.

"It's the MacIntyre boys," exclaimed the Little Colonel, shading her eyes with her hand and then half turning in her saddle to explain to the girls.

It's Malcolm and Keith. You'll like them. They stayed out heah with their grandmothah one whole wintah and they used to come up to ou' house lots. You remembah I told you 'bout them. They bought that pet beah from a tramp and neahly frightened me to death at their valentine pahty. I went into a dahk room, where it was tied up, and didn't know it was theah till it stood up on its hind feet and came at me. I neahly lost my mind, I was so sca'd."

"Oh, yes," cried Joyce. "I saw their pictures, all dressed up like little knights when they were in the tableaux." She surveyed them with great interest as the cloud of dust they were raising rapidly drew nearer.

"Which one was it ran away with you in a handcar, and nearly let the locomotive run over you?" asked Betty.

"That was Keith, the youngest one. He is on the black hawse."

"And which one gave you the silver arrow ? " asked Eugenia.

"Malcolm," answered the Little Colonel, putting up her hand to feel the little pin that fastened her sailor collar.

"Oh, she's got it on now! " exclaimed Eugenia, turning to laugh over her shoulder at the other girls. "See how red her face is. I believe he is her sweetheart."

"It's no such a thing! " cried the Little Colonel, angrily. "Eugenia Forbes, you are the biggest goose I evah saw! Mothah says it's silly for children to talk about havin' sweethea'ts. We are just good friends."

"It isn't silly!" insisted Eugenia. "I have two sweethearts who send me flowers and candy, and write me notes, and they are just as jealous of each other as they can be."

"Then I'd be ashamed to brag of it," cried the Little Colonel, angry that her mother's opinion had been so flatly contradicted. But there was no time for a quarrel. The boys had come up with them, and Lloyd had to make the necessary introductions. Eugenia thought she had never seen two handsomer boys' or any one with more courtly manners, and as Malcolm rode along beside her, she wished that Mollie and Fay and Kell could see her knightly escort.

Joyce and Keith followed, and Betty and Rob brought up the rear. The Little Colonel led the way. At the station she turned, saying, "Which way do you all want to go?"

"Have you ever been down by the gypsy camp?" asked Malcolm. "We boys passed that way a little while ago, and they were playing on banjos and dancing, and having a fine old time. It's quite a sight."

"Oh, yes, let's go!" cried Eugenia. "I'm wild to see it and have my fortune told. Joyce and I were talking about it a little while before we started. You want to go, don't you, Joyce?" she called back over her shoulder.

"What's that?" she answered. "To the gypsy camp? Of course. I thought that that was where we had decided to go when we started."

She had been in the house when Mrs. Sherman had discussed the matter with Eugenia and Betty, and was wholly unconscious that there was any objection to their going.

"I'm afraid mothah might not want us to go," said Lloyd. "Maybe it would be bettah to wait until anothah day and ask her."

Rob and Betty had fallen a little behind the others, having spied a bunch of four-leafed clovers, and Rob had dismounted to pick them, so they did not hear the discussion that followed. Lloyd was not willing to go without her mother's permission, remembering what had been said about the camp the previous summer, but Eugenia had her way as she usually did. Her influence over Lloyd was growing stronger every day.

Busily talking with Rob, as they followed along, Betty did not notice where they were going, until the strumming of a banjo and loud singing drew her attention to the fact that they were almost upon the gypsy camp.

"Oh, we mustn't go in here!" she called, in alarm, seeing that the other girls were dismounting, and the boys were hitching their ponies along the fence.

"Why?" asked Joyce, pausing in the act of springing from the saddle.

"Godmother said we mustn't. Not an hour ago, she said it wasn't a proper place for us, and that she wouldn't think for a moment of allowing Lloyd to come. When she saw that we were disappointed, she planned an entertainment for us tonight, and we agreed to it, both of us, Eugenia and I. Eugenia knows she did."

There were some very curious glances exchanged in the little group, and the boys drew to one side, leaving the girls to settle the matter between them.

Eugenia darted a glance at Betty that would have withered her if it could.

"For goodness' sake don't make such an everlasting fuss about nothing," she exclaimed. "Come on, it will be all right."

"But Eugenia," interrupted Lloyd, "if mothah said I couldn't go that settles it."

"She didn't tell you, did she?" asked Eugenia.

"No, but if she told you, it is just the same."

"But she didn't tell me," persisted Eugenia, grown desperate to carry out her own wishes, and not stopping at the truth. "I'll tell you how it was."

Putting an arm around Lloyd, she drew her aside. "It is all Elizabeth's imagination," she protested, in a low tone. "I never saw such a little silly for making mountains out of mole-hills. She is such a 'fraidy-cat that she wouldn't look behind her if a fly buzzed. Now you know, Lloyd, that, as particular as I am, I wouldn't think of going anywhere that wasn't proper, any more than your mother would. I'll take the responsibility. I'm sure I am old enough, and it's all right for us to go when three big boys are with us."

The others could not hear what passed between the two. Eugenia coaxed and wheedled and sneered by turns and finally Lloyd yielded, and they all started in. All but Betty. She waited in the lane alone, riding up and down, up and down, for ages it seemed to her, waiting for them to come back.

In reality it was not quite an hour that she kept her solitary vigil in the lane. As she rode back and forth she could catch glimpses of Eugenia's pink dress inside the tent, where they were all gathered around the old fortune-teller. Now and then she heard voices and laughter, and it gave her such a lonely, left-out feeling that she could scarcely keep back the tears. She knew that the others thought she was fussy and over-particular, and that helped to make her thoroughly uncomfortable.

The fretful wail of a sick baby sounded at intervals from the tent. The banjo-playing had stopped on their arrival. It was nearly noon when the six children came straggling out of the tent.

"I wouldn't have missed it for anything!" said Eugenia, triumphantly. "Betty was a goose not to go, wasn't she? Why, Betty, she told me my whole past, and even described the three girls I go with at school. I am to have a long life and lots of money, and to be married twice. And she told me to beware of a fleshy, dark person with black eyes, who is jealous of me and will try to do me harm."

"What did she tell you, Joyce?" asked Betty' eagerly, feeling that she had missed the great opportunity of her life for lifting the veil that hid her future.

"She said that I had been across a big body of water and was going again, but the rest was a lot of stuff that I didn't believe and can't remember."

"She didn't give me a dollar's worth of fortune"' complained Rob. "Not by a long shot." He had paid his own way and now thought regretfully of the two circuses to which the squandered dollar might have admitted him.

"Let's not tell anybody we've been here," suggested Eugenia as they started homeward. "It will make it so much more romantic, to keep it a secret. We can wait and see what comes true, and tell each other years afterward."

"But I always tell mothah everything," cried the Little Colonel, in surprise. "She would enjoy hearing the the funny fortunes the old woman told us, and I'm shah if she knew how sick that poah baby is she'd send it something. She is always helpin' poah people."

"But I have a special reason for keeping it a secret," urged Eugenia. "Promise not to say anything about it for awhile anyhow. Wait till I am ready to go home."

"Why?" asked Lloyd, with a puzzled expression.

"She's afraid for godmother to know," said Betty, unable to control her tongue any longer, and still smarting with the recollection of some of the things with which Eugenia had answered her refusal to go into the camp with them.

" It is no such a thing! " cried Eugenia. "It was all right for us to go, and I've a private reason of my own for not saying anything about it for awhile. It is a very little thing to ask, and I'm sure that, as a guest of Lloyd's, it is a very little thing for her to do, to respect my wishes that much."

"Oh, of course, if you put it that way," said Lloyd, "I'll not say anything about it till you tell me that I can."

"You boys don't mind promising, either, do you?" asked Eugenia, flashing a smile of her black eyes at each one in turn.

"Cross your hearts," she cried, laughing, as they gave their promise, "and swear 'Really truly, blackly, bluely, lay me down and cut me in twoly,' that you won't tell."

Joyce laughingly followed the boys' example, and Eugenia gave a significant smile toward Betty, riding on alone in dignified silence. "Then it is all right," she exclaimed, loud enough for her to hear, that is, if Miss Goody-goody doesn't feel it her duty to run and tell."

Betty was too angry to make any answer. She rode on with her cheeks burning and her head held high. Mrs. Sherman was sitting in the wide, cool hall when the little party stopped at the steps. The boys had ridden down the avenue, too, and dismounted to speak to her.

I have left invitations for you all to come to dinner to-night," she said, as Malcolm and Keith came up to shake hands. "Your Aunt Allison has consented to play fortune-teller for us. Have you ever had your fortune told, Rob? You are to come, too."

"Yes, once," answered Rob, cautiously, catching a warning look from Eugenia. "It wasn't very satisfactory, though, and I'll be glad to try it again."

Such a flush had spread over the Little Colonel's face that Mrs. Sherman noticed it. "I am afraid you have ridden too far in this noonday heat, little daughter," she said. "You'd better go up-stairs and bathe your face."

The boys took their leave, and Lloyd escaped from her mother's watchful eyes to follow her advice. When she came down to lunch, the flush was gone from her cheeks, but there was an uncomfortable pricking of her conscience that stayed with her all that afternoon, and deepened steadily after Miss Allison's arrival.

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