For those of you who have asked about the gypsy curse, here is part 1 of 3. I had to cut it in beginning edits, but it explains how the girls were cursed.
“Evie! Do hush up!” Beatrice Westby, age ten, huffed at her screaming younger sister. She stomped her foot in the soft hay of the horse barn just for good measure. “I am trying to think!” Her soft blond curls bounced up and down and slapped against her rosy cheeks, echoing her irritated frustration. With blue eyes flashing, she turned and stared at her youngest sister until she stuffed her thumb in her mouth and whimpered instead.
Amelia, age eight, placed a comforting arm around the little girl’s tiny shoulders. The two sank onto a pile of hay, Evie’s soft, blonde head resting on her shoulder. She turned her worried green eyes to Beatrice. “What are we going to do? Papa will whip us for sure if he finds out what we did.” Her lower lip trembled at the thought of a whipping from her father. Her voice wavered as she added, “And Mama will be ever so disappointed.”
“Disappointed,” Evie echoed, as fresh tears rolled down her chubby cheeks.
She patted Evie’s shoulder and looked to Beatrice in complete trust. Beatrice would think of something. She always had good ideas. Amelia frowned and bit her lower lip with her teeth. Except for today’s good idea. That hadn’t been such a good idea at all.
They knew to stay clear of father’s horse, Thunder. He was not like Bluebell, Beatrice’s horse, or even Katy, her gentle dappled pony. Thunder was a thoroughbred, which meant he was not to be touched. Papa had been very stern when he told the girls to stay away from him. But today, they had disobeyed Papa and Thunder got out. She sniffled and tears welled in her eyes. He was going to be very angry.
She and Evie sat on the hay as Beatrice paced around the barn. From time to time, she muttered to herself. Once she looked like she was going to cry, but then she moved to Bluebell’s stall and hid her face in her horse’s neck.
She shifted. The hay was scratchy and Evie’s head was heavy on her shoulder. She was going to ask Beatrice what she had come up with when she heard voices approaching the barn. They couldn’t be caught! They weren’t supposed to be in the barn without someone watching them.
Grabbing Evie by the arm, she pulled her behind the hay bale they had been sitting on. “Hsst! Beatrice! Someone’s coming!”
Beatrice’s head popped up from her horse’s neck and her eyes widened in fright. She scanned the room for a place to hide before scrambling over Bluebell’s stall door. Amelia peeked over the hay pile and watched Beatrice’s skirts disappear as James and Tuck, two of Papa’s grooms, walked into the barn. She ducked down again, pulling Evie to her side.
“It’s the darndest thing,” Tuck said to James. “It looked like Thunder galloping across the fields. But I know he was locked up inside his stall.”
The head groom swore. “You’d just better hope it only looked like Thunder and it wasn’t actually him. Otherwise, his Lordship will have both of our skins. And I for one like mine where it is.”
“Damn it all!” James cried. “Thunder’s stall is empty. I don’t know how he got out, but you had best make sure he gets back in here before his Lordship comes down this afternoon.”
“Yes sir,” Tuck stammered. “I’ll ride out right now.” Hurried footsteps neared her hiding spot.
James muttered to himself all the while stomping after Tuck. “It must be those damned gypsies his Lordship allows to camp in the East forest. I’ve seen them sniffing around the barn in the past. Thunder must have been too great a temptation for them thieves to stay away this time.”
After James and Tuck left the barn in pursuit of Thunder, the stall door squeaked open and Beatrice’s face peeked over the hay pile where they were still pressed together.
They climbed out from behind the hay pile and brushed off their skirts. Amelia picked straw out of her red braids and asked, “What are we going to do, Bea? James and Tuck know Thunder’s gone. They’re going to tell papa. And Papa is going to know it was us who let him out because we were down here for our afternoon ride.”
“But don’t you see?” Bea asked. “Now we have someone to blame it on.”
Amelia was confused. She didn’t see who they could blame but themselves.
“The gypsies. You heard James say they are here again. We just tell Papa we saw them let Thunder out and take him away,” she said.
“But that’s lying!” Amelia gasped.
Evie nodded in agreement.
“And Papa and Mama say that it’s wrong to tell a lie.” Amelia gripped her hands and stared at her older sister in anguish.
Beatrice stared down her nose at both of them. “They also said sometimes we can lie if we are doing it to protect someone so they don’t get hurt.” Beatrice looked smug. “And we’re doing it so we don’t get hurt.” Bea knelt in front of Evie and grabbed her small hands, her voice soft and pleading. “You don’t want Papa to whip you, do you, Evie?”
The little girl shook her head, her eyes filling with tears again.
“I don’t think that’s what they meant, Bea. It’s not right. The gypsies could get in trouble and they didn’t do anything.”
Beatrice waved her hand in the air, dismissing Amelia’s concerns. “You know they never stay very long. They should be leaving soon, and they won’t be back for years. No one will get hurt.”
“I don’t want to get paddled, Mimi,” Evie snuffled.
Amelia knew she was outnumbered. When Evie teamed up with Bea, there was no way she was going to get around them. Even though she knew it was wrong, Amelia found herself agreeing to her sister’s scheme.
After all, Bea’s the one who got us in this mess. She can get us out of it.
“You promise, Bea?” Amelia asked. “No one is going to get hurt?”
Bea sighed, relief washing over her face. “I promise. Now, here’s the plan.” The girls huddled together while Beatrice explained what each of them was going to do.
© Sara Ackerman 2016