Alfred's cousin Emmaline was visiting for the summer. It was her pale and wan complexion had led to her visiting her country relations in the first place, and unfortunately, Alfred had been assigned the duty of entertaining her. Of course, any entertainment for a girl of four was simply repulsive in six-year-old Alfred's mind, but he bore his burden well, often engaging her in simple games of chase or foot races. This, in his mind, satisfied his duty, therefore giving him plenty of time to indulge in his own activities. Unfortunately for Alfred, little Emmaline did not share the same view, and often insisted to his mother that it was necessary for his cousin to accompany him wherever these solitary rambles took him. His mother was usually acquiesced, much to Alfred's chagrin.
The humid July weather had led to their outing today, with Alfred's temptations of books and games proving to be a moot point because of his cousin. Emmaline had been on the verge of throwing a tantrum, and his mother, avoiding a catalyst to her already splitting headache, had ushered the two of them out of doors. Alfred was at a loss; ordinarily he had the promise of going indoors and reading as a second option (particularly if his cousin was feeling tempestuous that afternoon), but that option had closed itself to him as quickly as the door in his face.
After a few moments of blank thought, Alfred's steps began to point in the direction of the town pond, a spot where he found either quiet solitude or legions of boys with whom he could fish. Emmaline had never ventured to this place before and wisely chose to remain quiet for more than half of the journey there. The unexpected silence proved valuable to Alfred, as he was able to listen to tiny sounds: the scamper of a rabbit's feet as it darted through the brush, the brushy slither emerging from a snake's glide on grass, the quiet chirps of a single bird.
"How much further is it?" whined Emmaline, bored with Alfred's naturalist spirit.
"Not much," replied Alfred, absently picking a few flat stones off the ground and placing them in his pocket for later use. "Just a few more--hold on, Emmaline! You don't know the way!"
His cousin had taken the liberty of paving her own path, trampling innocent jonquils and daisies in her quest. When Alfred caught up with her, she had lost her hat in a nearby puddle, and her curls, usually arranged to perfection, had intermingled with twigs and lost their shape. Upon reaching her, Alfred heaved a huge sigh. He would never be allowed to take his cousin out of doors after this. Not thinking, he picked a stone from his pocket and threw it across the pond.
Emmaline, who had been tiptoeing to the water's edge to get a closer look, watched the stone as it made four clear skips on the water's surface and disappeared. Her eyes opened in astonishment. Abandoning her pursuits, she ran over to her cousin, who skipped a second rock to almost the other side of the pond.
"Do it again, s'il vous plaît!" she begged, tugging on his arm. Sighing, he picked up the remaining stone. He threw with all his might, but the third stone seemed to come skipping back, its timing and aim too ill for it to advance. Normally, he would have waded out to obtain another stone and attempt the act again, but movement across the pool halted him from moving.
"Oh look!" exclaimed Emmaline. "It's Mr. Carey and Mrs. Dunwood."
Mr. Carey was a young gentleman who, with his wife, operated the town general store. His sister-in-law, Mrs. Dunwood, taught school next door. These facts meant little to the children, especially Emmaline who knew nothing of the two other than the fact that Mr. Carey was apt to give her presents of sweet mints and Mrs. Dunwood was apt to give her a sound scolding. The pair was taking a leisurely stroll around the body's perimeter, arm in arm. Alfred thought it wise to be quiet and unseen and ducked into the recesses of a decaying tree, pulling a protesting Emmaline with him.
"Arrêt! Let me be!" she cried, before her cousin clasped a hand over her mouth. A brief struggle ensued, Alfred silencing his own yells when Emmaline's fingers clasped around his flesh in a long pinch. Finally she stopped, too busy watching the characters across the lake to put forth anymore fight.
They had stopped in their walk and paused by a small cluster of trees. Mr. Carey was saying something to Mrs. Dunwood in a low tone. Alfred strained his ears, but could only hear a broken bit of his speech.
"I … decided…keep this a secret … we can't do this … your sister… suspicious... last time…Aggie… done for."
And her reply: "George… cretin. I … my sister didn't matter to you… only cared for me... trust you to fulfill your promises …. believe that … keep this from my husband and your wife?"
Alfred rested his head against the trunk, his mind swimming from the strain. Emmaline had escaped from her cousin's loose grip and crawled into the hollowed out tree where sunlight no longer reached. Crawling in after her, he called her name softly until he found her, whimpering at a new splinter on her right forefinger. After assuring her it would be all right, the two tunneled their way back to the light, where Alfred used a sharp rock to remove the offending particle. As he performed this minor surgery, Emmaline chatted to him as if the whole incident had been forgotten, mixing French and English phrases together so often that Alfred had a mind to tell her to stop talking completely.
"I am hungry, cousin. When will we have dinner tonight? I hope we have some more riz et poulet; I found it to be most delicious. Ma mère et père do not like when I eat these foods, for they say it is too rich for me. I find it to be not so. My, your hands are brown! Ma mère et père would never let me be as brown as you are. Then again, we are French and not used to this rough English weather. Poor Mamma! I think she must miss me now, as I am her "petite étoile," and she will have nothing to do since I am away. By the by, what do you think Mr. Carey is doing with that knife?"
Not bothering to look up, Alfred replied, "I don't know. Showing it to Mrs. Dunwood, perhaps."
"Probably so," commented Emmaline, peeking at her wound. "What are you doing to my finger?"
"Nothing." Alfred positioned the sharpest point of the rock toward the thickest part of the splinter. Knowing his cousin would scream when he pulled it, he added, "Tell me what Mr. Carey is doing."
"He is showing Mrs. Dunwood his knife, like I told you before," she said innocently, "and she is looking up at him and they are talking. Sacre bleu, they are shouting! I sorely dislike shouting. Now, Mr. Carey has dropped the knife and they have fallen down." She stopped her rambling and looked at Alfred, who was readying to make the incision.
"Go on," he said. She shrugged her shoulders. "I cannot see anymore."
Alfred sighed, looking around for something else to distract her. When he had about given up and was preparing to make the incision minus any form of opiate, she suddenly started. "There they are!"
"What are they doing?"
"Mrs. Dunwood has the knife now. Mr. Carey is chasing her. They are playing tag! Zut alours, they should know not to run with a knife! They are chasing each other--such an unsafe game!--She is admiring it in the light…she is putting it in Mr. Carey's coat pocket. Attente; that is the wrong way--"
Twin screams pierced the July atmosphere, one from the north side of the lake, the other from the south. Tears ran down from Emmaline's face; Alfred had removed the splinter and thrown it into the water. Mrs. Dunwood's splinter also hit the water with a soft plink. Alfred offered Emmaline a sleeve; she wiped her tears away and stood up.
"Where is Mrs. Dunwood?" Alfred wondered aloud. Emmaline shrugged. "I see her no longer."
They paused for a moment. A bird sang a brief, mad little trill. Frogs croaked nearby. Alfred picked up another stone, smoothing it over with his fingertips.
"Throw it again," begged Emmaline, sucking on her bleeding finger.
Alfred obliged, twisting his arm and throwing with all of his might.
This story was inspired by the drawing "A Strange Day in July," one of several drawings labled a part of "The Harris Burdick Mysteries" (the drawing can be found at http:hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/davidc/6cfiles/documents/mysteries/strangeday.htm, if you're curious). These drawings and their accompanying captions have been with me ever since I was eleven and attended my first Young Authors Camp, therefore I saw it fitting that my senior portfolio contained a little ditty about one of them. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.