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   Chapter 5 THE CHILD AND THE STRANGER.

A Fool There Was By Porter Emerson Browne Characters: 4084

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


It is of necessity that a story such as this should be episodical, lapsical, disconnected. Its inception lies in two countries, and of different people. And it is, in its beginnings, a story of contrasts. So one may be permitted again to say: At a time when pompous, ponderous, white-whiskered, black-suited old Dr. DeLancey was engaged in bringing to the daughter of Kathryn Blair a posthumous baby brother that, in the mystery of things, turned out after all to be a sister, a stranger chanced to be riding at dusk through the deep shades of the Bois du Nord, in Brittany. The path was overhung with spreading boughs; it was tumbled with the wood-litter of a decade. His horse went slowly, lifting each forefoot daintily and placing it carefully. And the stranger permitted the animal to take its own time.

At length he came to a turning. The huge bole of a great oak was at his left. He rounded it. His horse raised its head, nostrils distended, eyes alert, and stopped.

The stranger looked up. It was a strange picture that met his eyes….

At first he did not believe that that which he saw was human. It seemed like some nymph of the wood; for there are nymphs in the Bois du Nord, you know, many of them. Anyone who lives there will tell you that.

But then his eyes fell upon a tumbled heap of clothing; and he knew that it was not a nymph, after all. For nymphs do not wear clothing.

There was a little woodland pool before him. The sun, straining through the great, heavy-leafed boughs, specked it with blots and blotches of gold. Beside it there sat the figure of a girl, naked. She sat there, her slender legs beneath her, her slender body leaning upon one rounded, white arm. Great masses of dead-black hair fell about her glowing shoulders, half covering the arm which supported her. Her other hand clasped her knee. Her dark eyes were gazing before her toward the trunk of the oak. The stranger felt that she knew that he was there; and yet she had not looked at him.

On the bole of the oak was a squirrel. It wa

s motionless, as though carved out of the trunk itself. Beneath it lay coiled a snake. Its eyes were fastened upon those of the squirrel and its flat, ugly head was moving gently to and fro-to and fro-the while its forked tongue played back and forth between its fangs.

They waited there, the stranger and the naked girl. They waited for a long, long time….

By and by the squirrel moved a little. One forefoot crept slowly down the bark of the oak-and then the other-the one hind foot-and then its mate…. And the squirrel was nearer to the snake.

Again they waited, the stranger and the naked girl…. The squirrel crept yet further down the trunk, toward the slow-shifting venomous head….

The horse snorted…. The squirrel raised its head; and darted up the tree trunk. It was gone. And the snake slid noiselessly off into the underbrush…. The naked girl turned dark, deep eyes upon the stranger. She seemed not to mind her nakedness. And to him it seemed not strange that she should not. The horror of it all was deep within him. He murmured, beneath his breath:

"Good God!"

Then he spoke to her, a muttered word, a meaningless word. She swung her body over, sinuously, so that she faced him, slender legs half stretched. The dead black hair rippled over budding breasts. She did not answer. She merely looked at him.

The stranger sat there. His eyes blinked a little; he brushed his hand across them, weakly. Then he looked at her again.

Came a sudden rustling in the brush, beside him. His horse leaped forward, almost unseating him…. He had gone far down the trail before he reined it in. Then he crossed himself. His eyes showed that he was frightened.

There was a turning in the path, a turning that led to the main road. The stranger swung his horse into this turning. He knew that it added to the length of his journey by a good league and a half. And yet he took that turning.

And, later, as he turned into the travelled road, he breathed a deep, deep sigh; and again he crossed himself.

[Illustration]

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