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February 13, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 4 (p. 58-61)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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"Hello, King John!" shouted Huck amiably when he and D. had reached the mosaic window on the front stairs and could see John struggling to keep Jim from jumping on him.

"Huck, you get this mongrel away from me before I give him a swift kick!"

"Aw, he ain't doin' nothin' but sayin' hello and how-de-do, yer majesty," Huck responded, but whistled Jim away for safety's sake.

Brushing paw marks from the front of his white robe, John scolded Huck, "You know that I don't like to be called that."

"Sorry, sir. I'll stop, promise. Been visitin' the Nonesuch Inn much lately, old man?"

"Don't you old man me neither, Huck! I'm barely ten years your senior."

"Ah, more senior'n I'll be in thirty, I reckon, and were I a hundred, I reckon I'd be the junior still! But why don't we let bygones be bygones, John? S'been nearly since you was my age that we been disagreeable t'each other, ain't it?"

Relaxing a bit and subtly, very subtly, smiling, John said, "Huck, you do this every time you arrive. You know that before you leave you'll have done yet another horrible and inconsiderate atrocity to me, so why do you bother apologizing before you've even done it?"

"Aw, shucks, John, you know that what I want is fer everybody on this here raft to be satisfied and feel right and kind towards each other!" said Huck, winking at D.

"Yes, I'm sure that's exactly what you're after," John retorted, but he let it lie at that, then, changing the subject, "I see you've rousted the rabbit from her hole."

"Naw, it was Jim. He's always been a sight more person'ble than me. What would you want to go scarin' this girl into stayin' hidden for two days fer anyway?"

"It wasn't anything I did. I've been nothing but helpful to her. It was the doing of the other new arrival, Alex. Wasn't it, young lady?"

D. mumbled that she supposed that he was telling the truth.

"I did attempt in earnest to retrieve your keys," John avowed. "In fact," he continued, "I've managed, not to find your clothes, but at least some comfortable looking slippers that might be fit for you to use for the time being." He raised a finger for them to stay put, disappeared into the courtyard, and returned with a pair of hard-soled slippers that did, indeed, look comfortable. "It's a petty conciliation, I know, but I searched them out to show that I do not condone what has happened since your arrival."

D. put them on; they fit perfectly. "Perhaps I have been a bit too rash in suspecting you," she acquiesced.

An awkward silence was broken when Huck clapped his hands and said, "Welp, I'm glad we've got that settled. The lady 'n' me were on our way for a stroll to wear out the new shoes, d'ye like to come, yer emminence? Or would you rather stay here and partake of the provisions I put in the pantry for you?"

John's eyebrows raised, apparently catching the exact meaning of "provisions." "I've been walking all morning. I suppose I'll have something to eat and then relax with a good book."

"Oh, yer welcome to the food, too, but I suspect you've a bout a' thirst," Huck said, laughing. "Just don't stuff yerself so full that yer too cross-eyed to read." John shot a mildly nasty look at Huck, who only laughed and slapped him on the back. Then to D., "Le's go an' leave the king to his refreshment."

She didn't object, in large part because she hoped their walk might bring them to Huck's car, and neither did Jim the dog, so out they went. As soon as the door closed behind them, John marched hastily toward the kitchen.

On the porch, Huck whispered to D. that he thought John would be feeling considerably more mellow by the time they got back.


D. wanted to check on her car, but Huck convinced her that without the keys there was no reason to frustrate herself further, so they walked north rather than south. Between blithe bouts of hopping around them, Jim would charge far off into the woods until Huck whistled for his return. The dog came back each time with a different stick, letting his two companions take turns at trying to wrest each from him and running off after a new one when they succeeded.

The foliage pressed in thickly around them.

"You must get lost out here quite a bit," D. remarked.

"There's paths if you know where to look." Huck indicated the direction they were heading, and D. saw that the bushes leaned just slightly outward. She supposed that traffic on this particular highway was light, and a fractional regret presented itself for ratification when she considered that the off-road scars left by her car would be a long time healing. But toward her defense, she recalled that the road off of which she had driven a mile-and-a-half from where her car now lingered inanimate had been on a new map that she had bought the week before and was already losing ground to the forest at its borders and gushing sprouts of green at uneven intervals across the asphalt.

"Huck?"

"Yes'm?" he responded as he threw yet another stick out of sight between the trees. Jim watched it fly then bounded briskly in the opposite direction.

"You said you parked your car quite a distance from the house right?"

"Yes'm."

"Then you must not have been able to bring all that many provisions with you."

Chuckling, as if he thought that she was trying to catch him in a contradiction, "There's a wheelbarrow I leave near the spot when I go."

"But still..."

"I left most of the stuff that'll keep in my truck. I reckon I'll go back and get the rest in time."

"Oh," she said, somewhat dejectedly, then, "Would you like some help?"

"Naw, it's my part to do. House rules."

"Oh great, more rules."

"You'll catch on."

"To be honest, I don't think I'm going to be making that a priority."

"Do what you like, but there's a bundle a' int'resting characters to be met here."

"I'll bet."

They walked on. D. would have asked about some of these "int'resting characters," but she figured that Huck would only tell her that she would see when she would see, or something along those lines. Jim took after a squirrel sniffing around beneath a nearby tree. It ran around in a confused circle and leapt up the trunk, halting in alertness fifteen feet above the barking dog, who began running around the tree and stopping every few revolutions to make sure the squirrel knew that he was still there. Whistling, Huck threw a stick away from the scene. Jim disappeared in the stick's general direction, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, and returned with a rock that was one size too big for him. Huck laughed and told Jim to drop the stone. Doing as he was told, the dog fell into a meandering amble a pace ahead of the people, looking back and waiting whenever the distance grew to a dozen yards or so. A bird called out above them. Another responded with a countermelody a few trees over. D. looked at Huck.

"So what's this Nonesuch Inn."

Huck smiled fondly to a memory, "Oh that goes back to the beginnin' of my knowin' of John and Nathaniel." He snickered.

"A funny story?"

"If you know how to look at it."

"Well, I'm of a mind to hear a good story if you're of a mind to tell one."

Huck smiled kindly, old age obviously loitering behind his pensive posture as he glanced out over the field to which they had come. The grass was wild and dead, but still high, and the wind blew across it in waves of life. Huck smiled again, this time with a bit more enthusiasm; the old age, if it had not been an illusion, skittered away or was sucked into the boyishly glinting hazel of his eyes.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 13, 2005 11:53 AM
A Whispering Through the Branches