Her Highland Prophecy – Eloise Madigan

Diana followed her little sister through the fair, the lights and bright colors, amazed once more at how excitable she could be. At the moment, her eyes were glued to the vast array of colorful horses rotating slowly in a wave on the merrygo-round. “Di, look! They have a carousel!” Grace exclaimed as she looked around with childish glee. Diana shook her head fondly. She looked at the fair surrounding her and her wonder went up a notch. Beautiful though the tiny village of Ballachulish and the surrounding area were, they were as far removed from civilization as she could imagine; and she had visited some strange places in her lifetime, usually linked with her studies at the University of London. Their annual holiday for this year took the small group to the Scottish Highlands. Diana hoped to see some of the landscapes featured in an art exhibition on Scottish painters that she had so much admired at University. “Di, let’s go!” her sister urged again and this time grabbed her hand. “All right, all right! Stop pulling, Grace!” Honestly, sometimes Diana was not sure if Grace was eighteen or eight years old. The detour to this particular fair had been entirely her idea. They had spent the last few weeks traipsing the wilds of Scotland along with a few friends and this was not the first time she had prompted an additional stop with her enthusiasm. Louisa and Peggy, her friends, were surprisingly indulgent. Even now, Diana could see Louisa looking over at her with a raised eyebrow and an amused smirk, certain that Diana would oblige her little sister. Diana rolled her eyes and caved.

“We’ll meet you at the food area!” she called out with a laugh as her friends disappeared behind the crowd. They quickly reached the carousel and joined the queue after paying the fee. Diana pulled her purse a little closer, remembering the grubby man’s greedy look at the sight of the money inside. She shuddered and glanced around. Several beggars stood in her line of sight. Filthy and unkempt, they ambled through the crowd with outstretched arms. Diana moved closer to her sister. “I think I want that one,” Grace interrupted her musings, pointing to one of the horses. Diana squinted at the spinning carousel. “The white one with the flowers on its mane?” she asked.

She looked away a moment later, dizzy. “No, next to it. The beautiful bay with the braid in its tail,” Grace said. Diana looked back, spotting the one she was talking about. Eyeing the pretty floral outfit her sister had put on after breakfast, Diana teased, “I see it. How are you going to climb on that thing? It’s enormous and you’re in a dress.” In fact, all four of them dressed in similar dresses, the only difference being the color. It had been one of the first things they bought when they were in Edinburgh. Grace’s dress was a soft yellow, a perfect counterbalance to Diana’s darker blue. “It’s not as large as Captain,” her sister said dismissively.

Diana’s eyes widened. Captain was their father’s black stallion. “Captain? When did you ride Dad’s horse?” Grace looked sheepish at what she had let slip. “Well, Hazel threw a shoe and I really wanted to take a ride and—” “Wait…Hazel?” The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t immediately place it. When she did, her eyes widened. “Didn’t Dad sell her a few years ago?” Grace bit her lip and Diana sighed. It was just like her sister to do something so reckless. “You could have been killed.” “Well, it was years ago and nothing happened, so I know I can get onto that horse if I want to,” Grace said and crossed her arms. Diana sighed.

Sometimes she forgot how young Grace was. She was ten years her junior: born just before the Great War, and spoiled most of her life by their parents and the staff at their house. “If you say so, but I would remind you that there won’t be a stable hand or a convenient hay bale available to help you here,” Diana teased. Grace opened her mouth to retort but diverted her attention to the man walking up to them. He had dark, greasy hair and his face and clothes were grimy. There was a hole in the knee of his trousers that were liberally streaked with mud. “Any change to spare?” he asked, holding out an upside-down cap that already had a few coins in it. Diana shrunk backward, the unwashed man too close for her comfort. “No, sorry,” she said quickly and turned away. It was finally their turn to ride the carousel.

She was amused to note that Grace opted for a much more reasonably sized horse than the one she had pointed out earlier. Diana carefully sat sideways on her own horse and pushed a lock of her hair behind her ears. It was barely long enough to stay in place and not even her hat was enough to keep her blonde curls back. A few moments later, that large machine rolled to life in a steady whirl of color and music. From the slightly elevated position, she had a better view of the fairgrounds and was surprised to see just how large it was. A large tent pitched near the middle was most likely where the dancing was, and dozens of smaller ones surrounded it. Diana thought she saw another ride behind the large tent, but she wasn’t certain. She couldn’t wait to explore. When the ride was over, she and Grace wandered through the fair, trying to find their friends. The variety of entertainment was staggering.

All around them were vendors trying to sell their wares, acrobats performing tricks in corners, games of chance, dancers… Diana suspected their stay would extend more than the one night they had initially planned. “Grace! Diana! Over here!” Louisa waved them over. She and Peggy were sitting at a table with paper cups set in front of them. Diana and Grace hurried over. “What do you have there?” Diana asked as she sniffed at one of the cups. “Whisky!” Peggy exclaimed happily, sipping out of her own cup. Diana took a tentative sip and her eyes widened. “Good whisky,” she corrected, then took a larger sip and sighed contentedly. “Did you find anything interesting?” “There’s dancing in the main tent later,” Louisa said happily. “Though I’m not sure if it will be jazz or Scottish.

It should be fun either way.” Diana nodded, thinking that she would most definitely enjoy a good dance. “That sounds nice. I was also thinking that we might want to extend our stay by a couple of nights,” she said. The other girls nodded and she continued expanding on her plan. “We can enjoy the fair today and tomorrow and leave the next morning. There’s certainly enough to do here for a couple of days. And as much as I have enjoyed our trip, I am getting tired being in the automobile so much.” The automobile was a fabulous invention, but after three weeks of driving over bumpy country roads, the experience had lost a lot of its previous charm. “Oh, that sounds lovely,” Peggy sighed.

“But what about Inverness?” “We still have a few days before we need to be there to meet Martha and Elsie,” Diana said. “It shouldn’t be a problem. So, we all agree?” They all looked around at each other, nodded, and then dissolved into giggles. “I want to look at the shops,” Louisa said. “We saw so many interesting things earlier, and I want a closer look!” “Me too,” Grace said and together they stood and made their way to the nearest tent. Diana supposed that the protection from the elements was useful on rainy days. Since they had arrived in Scotland, there had been quite a few and she could understand the necessity of such protection. A table filled with small metal trinkets sat right outside the tent flap. “Are ye wantin’ something pretty, lass?” the vendor asked from behind the counter. He wore traditional Scottish garb.

Diana looked it over critically. His kilt was short, over the knee like one of the short kilts favored later in history, but it was belted and draped over his shoulder like one of the earlier great kilts. She frowned at the discrepancy but dismissed it. In her experience, most people did not want to hear it when they made a mistake. It had gotten her in trouble more than once in the past. She smiled at him instead and moved closer to look at one of the brooches. Further back, she could see several strings of pearls. She pointed at them. “Can I see those, please?” she asked, and he brought them closer. “Freshwater pearls from the Highlands.

You have a good eye, lass,” he praised. They truly were beautiful. She gently touched a pearl. They were very smooth and would go beautifully well with the dresses she had brought with her for dancing. “That one please,” she pointed at one of the longer strands and the man smiled and turned to package the necklace. While she waited, she looked around at the people surrounding her. A puppet theatre was set up not too far away with a gaggle of children sitting giggling around it. A gypsy wearing a bright-colored turban was seated on a stool outside of a nearby tent, smoking a pipe not far from a young woman in a pale-pink dress arguing with a shop owner about prices. It was a fascinating collection of characters. “Get out of me way, ye wee bastard,” a loud voice said, followed by the pained cry of a child, and she instinctively turned to look in that direction.

A man stood over a small boy sprawled on the dusty ground with his hands pressed over his belly with a grimace of pain. Diana thought that the man must have kicked him hard enough to knock him over. He can’t be any older than three or four years old. Diana’s heart clenched. The little boy was thin as a rail with wide dark eyes filled with tears. He wore the same dirty clothes that she had noticed on many of the beggars since they arrived. The man scoffed and moved away, leaving the boy on the ground. Diana quickly pulled a large note out of her bag and moved closer to him. “Hey,” she said and was dismayed when he ducked his head as if expecting a blow. “I won’t hurt you,” she reassured him.

Up close, the little boy’s eyes were a dark blue. She smiled at him and helped him up. “Thank ye, mum,” he said. “Here,” Diana said and handed him the note, “it’s for you.” His eyes widened when he saw what was in his hand. “But—” “I insist,” Diana said firmly and closed his hand around it. He launched himself at her and planted a loud, childish kiss on her cheek. “Thank ye. Thank ye so much!” he said and then scampered off. Diana shook her head at his antics, but inside she was devastated at what she had witnessed.

There was never a good reason to treat a child so callously. “Looks like you have an admirer,” Louisa said drily from behind her. “He’s sweet,” she replied, her eyes tracing the path the little one had taken and then she turned back around to the vendor to pay for her pearls. Diana could feel eyes watching her as she made her purchase, but she couldn’t see anyone when she turned around. They spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the various displays. Grace was quickly enamored by the sweets display and spent a hefty amount of money there while Peggy spent a fair amount of time looking at the available clothing for sale. Diana went from counter to counter, looking at the available wares but did not buy anything else. The feeling that she was being watched stayed with her for the rest of the afternoon, but every time she turned around, she could not spot anyone looking her way. She was looking at seashell decorations when she felt a frisson of unease. She turned around, her eyes meeting those of the gypsy she had noticed earlier.

Her bright-yellow turban seemed even more garish up close. “Would ye like to know yer future? Esmeralda knows all and will show ye the right path,” she said. Diana looked at the short woman dressed in plain, but clean clothing – and the turban. Her hair was hidden inside her turban, but Diana thought it might be as dark as her eyebrows. Her large eyes were a pale grey, heavily accented with a bright-blue eye shadow and pierced through Diana with an intense look. She shivered. She did not believe in fortunetelling and magic, but the woman was eerie. “No, thank you,” she said and moved away. A couple of hours later, the girls were exhausted and their purses were noticeable lighter as they headed to the main tent to rest and enjoy the music. Louisa brought over drinks while Peggy and Grace joined the dancers.

Diana was happy that they were playing jazz music rather than the Scottish songs she had been expecting. They hadn’t enjoyed much dancing while they were on the road as opportunities to join in parties were few and far between. Truthfully, she missed it. Back home in London, she regularly attended several parties per week, something they hadn’t been able to do while touring Scotland. Her mood lifted as she listened to the familiar rhythm, feet lightly tapping with the beat. “Di, come on!” Grace urged, skirts swishing around her knees at her movement, and she beckoned her sister over. Diana drained her drink and joined the fun with a smile. Several dances and a couple of drinks more later, the girls were once more making their way across the fairgrounds in the opposite direction. Louisa was supporting Peggy, who was wobbling on her heels and Grace was giggling madly at the sight. Night had fallen, the moon casting long shadows as they meandered through the dark tents, and Diana lingered slightly behind the rest, slowly observing the stars above.

“I see yer fate clearly in the stars, lass.” It was the gypsy from earlier. She stood in front of a tent still lit from the inside. Diana could see a table with two chairs and realized that it must be where the old woman practiced her trade. In the moonlight, the woman was even more uncanny than she had been earlier. “Won’t ye let me read yer palm? Like I told ye earlier, Esmeralda knows the right path for ye.” Diana hesitated, feeling uneasy. What harm can it do?

.

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