Read CHAPTER XIII - THE GYPSY SUPPER of Little Prudy , free online book, by Sophie May, on

After a great, great while, it was afternoon, and the children went up to the Pines, carrying a small market basket half full of nice things.

I don’t know which felt most at home in those woods, the birds or the children.  It wasn’t at all like having a party in a parlor, where there are chairs and rugs in the way; and where you can’t run and jump without being afraid of hurting something.  No, there wasn’t any danger of scratching the varnish off the trees, nor any danger of soiling the soft carpet of the earth.

And if there hadn’t been a party, it was enough to make any body happy only to breathe the sweet air, and look away down at the white village, and away off at the blue hills.

Dr. Gray’s daughter Ruth, a girl of fourteen, was to have the care of Prudy; and at first she followed the child about like her shadow.

“You dear little pet,” said she, “don’t walk so fast.  There, now, my sweet dovey, let me take your hand.”

Prudy looked down at her copper-toed shoes with something like a pout, and slowly gave her hand to the young girl.

“Now, you’re a little pink of a dear,” said Ruth.  “Let’s see,” added she, feeling anxious to say something, for she thought Prudy would want to be amused, “do you love your aunt Madge any? I think she’s very good and nice.”

“Yes’m,” said Prudy, “I’ve kissed her so much that I love her a good deal.”

“Well, I declare,” laughed Ruth, “that’s a new way of learning to love any body!  I guess people call you a funny little monkey, don’t they?”

“No’m, they don’t,” replied Prudy, drawing away a little, “they think I’m as cunning as I can be.”

“O, my!  I know a little girl that thinks pretty well of herself.  Ah, here comes Dedy Roberts; does my little love know Dedy?”

“Yes’m, I went to see her once; she lives in a dreadful ragged house!”

“Well, you two little lammies can sit right down here and pick flowers, and if you find a strawberry I’ll give you a cent.”

“As if we was babies,” thought the little girls, for they were wise enough to know that strawberries were gone long ago.

“I don’t like her,” said Prudy to Dedy, when Ruth had turned away; “she calls me names all the whole time.  I guess she don’t know my name is Prudy.”

“I wouldn’t let her,” said Dedy.  “What did she call you?”

“O, monkeys, and lammies, and pinkies, and things.  Don’t you s’pose she’s ’most an April fool?”

After watching Prudy to the child’s vexation for about two hours, Ruth forgot all about her, and it so happened that the little thing strayed off with Horace and his friend Gilbert, whom he called “Grasshopper,” to a little clearing in the wood.

It is a sad fact that “Grasshopper” had a bunch of matches in his pocket, and the boys meant to build a fire.  Horace gathered the dry sticks and crossed them, so all Grasshopper had to do was to strike a match, and the fire was soon crackling briskly.

“How it pops!” said Prudy, “just like corn.”

“I reckon this is popple wood,” said Horace, “and they call it so because it pops in the fire.”

Prudy did not doubt it.  She never doubted any thing Horace said.  She stood looking on, with dumb surprise, as he took out of the inside pocket of his raglan three small fishes.

“Now,” said he, “if we can cook these for our supper, won’t we go a-flyin’?”

“Be they minnies?” asked Prudy.  “O, I know; it’s mack fishes!”

“She means mackerel, you see,” said Horace, with a wise look at Grasshopper.  “No, Prudy, these are chubbs, nice chubbs, too; I caught ’em myself.”

How to cook a fish, Horace had no idea, but he was not a boy to give up at trifles.

“If I put ’em into the fire they’ll burn up,” said he; “but if I hold ’em over the fire they’ll cook; ­now won’t they?”

“Your hand will cook, too, I guess,” said lazy Grasshopper, sitting down and looking on.

Horace said no more, but went quietly to work and whittled some long splinters, on which he stuck the fish and set them to roasting.  True, they got badly scorched and dreadfully smoked, but that was not all that happened.  A spark flying out caught Prudy’s gingham dress, and set it in flames in a second.

Whether the boys would have known what to do, I can’t say; but just then Sam Walker, a good-natured colored man, came up and put out the flames before Prudy fairly knew there were any.  Then he brought water from a spring and drowned the bonfire, and gave the boys “a piece of his mind.”

All the while poor Prudy was running off into the thickest part of the wood, crying bitterly.  Sam ran after her, and caught her up, as if she had been a stray lamb; and though she struggled hard, he carried her to the picnic ground, where the large girls were just spreading the table for supper.

“You’d better look out for these here young ones,” said Sam.  “This one would have been roasted sure, if I hadn’t a-happened along in the nick of time.”

Ruth Gray dropped the paper of candy she was untying, and turned very pale.  She had been too busy playing games to remember that she had the care of any body.

“O, you little ducky darling,” cried she, seizing Prudy in her arms, “don’t you cry, and you shall have a pocket full of candy.  You didn’t get burnt a mite, did you, honey?”

“No’m, I ain’t cryin’,” sobbed Prudy.  “I ain’t crying any thing about that;” and every word seemed to be shaken out, as if there was a little earthquake at her heart ­“there ­is ­black folks! O, he is just as ­black!”

“Is that all,” said Grace, stroking Prudy’s hair.  “Didn’t she ever see any negroes ­any nice black negro men before, Susy?”

“I thought she had; why, we have ’em in the streets at Portland, lots and lots of ’em.”

After much soothing, and a good deal of candy, Prudy was comforted, and the supper went off famously.  The children were all polite and well-behaved, “even the boys,” as Ruth said; and though they all had keen appetites, nobody was greedy.

By and by, when it would not do to stay any longer, they all started for home, happy and tired.

Ruth held Prudy’s little hand in a firm grasp, and wished she had held it so all the afternoon; “for,” as she said, to herself, “she’s a very slippery child.”

This had been a trying day for Prudy, and when aunt Madge put her to bed, her sweet blue eyes wouldn’t stay shut.

“Where do they grow, auntie?” said she, “them black folks.  Be they the jispies?”

“O, they grow any where,” replied aunt Madge, laughing; “just like any body.  They are not gypsies, but negroes.”

“I should think they’d wash their faces.”

“O, they do, but our Heavenly Father made them black.”

“Did he?” cried Prudy, raising her head from the pillow.  “And did he know how they was goin’ to look when he made ’em?  That man that catched me up, why, how he must feel!”

“He was very kind,” said aunt Madge, trembling as she thought of the child’s danger.  “O Prudy, did you thank him?”

“No, I didn’t,” replied Prudy.  “I didn’t know as he could hear any thing.  O, mayn’t I go up to the jispy Pines to-morrow and thank him?”

“We’ll see; but now it’s time you went to sleep.”

“Well, I will,” said Prudy, “I’ll go in a minute; but, auntie, he’s good, ain’t he?  He ain’t black all through?”

“He’s quite a good man,” answered aunt Madge, trying not to smile, “and has had a great deal of trouble.  I can’t stop to tell you, and you wouldn’t understand; but I dare say he has cried ever so much, Prudy, and felt worse than you can think, all because he is black; and some people don’t like black men.”

“I should think they’d be ashamed,” cried the child.  “Why, I love him, ’cause he can’t wash it off!  Mayn’t I put him in my prayer?”

Then Prudy had to get out of bed and kneel down and say her prayer over again.  It followed the Lord’s Prayer, and was in her own words: ­

“O God, please bless every body.  Bless all the big children, and the little children, and the little mites o’ babies.  And bless all the men and ladies that live in the whole o’ the houses.”

And now she added, ­

“And won’t you please to bless that black man that catched me up, and bless all the black folks, forever, amen.”