Opal tugged at the thick lead rope. “Only a few more steps, dear William Shakespeare!” The September warmth of the valley receded as she climbed up into the late afternoon sky. She paused for a breath and to have looks around. A welcoming breeze cooled the beads of perspiration on her forehead. Even here, high on the hillside, her faeries had sprinkled bright, orange-yellow goldenrod with the purple flowers of late summer Douglas aster to create a patchwork of color and a home for the butterflies. One lit on her arm, but she didn’t have time for a chat and so excused herself, and resumed the climb with William Shakespeare plodding along behind.
She wanted to share the view with her friend before the valley went to sleep, and it was still a goodly walk back to the house, so she had to hurry him along. She turned to look back at how he was doing, and slipped on the slick grass, plopping down on her backside. “Oh, dear,” she said, reaching into the pocket of her apron. “Are you all right, Felix Mendelssohn?” She scooped the tiny mouse in her hand and stroked its gray fur. Several yellow and black butterflies lit on her shoulders and arm, and on her dress. She lifted her arm and smiled. “Yes,” she said, speaking to the butterfly perched on her elbow. “I think he will have good feels in a bit, thank you. It’s kind of you to ask.”
William Shakespeare stopped and looked on tiredly, his head hung low, and let out a low rumbling nicker. It was gray-light time and he had already put in a full day pulling logs in the near woods. His soft muzzle touched Opal’s head and she felt his warm breath. “Oh, we’re fine, give thee thanks, aren’t we Felix?” Opal said as she put the mouse back in her deep pocket. “But we must hurry, or miss the seeing time.” She scrambled to her feet and on up the path with William Shakespeare in tow. They reached the hilltop just as the sun was ducking down behind the westernmost hill, but it was a grand sight all the same.
“There, now!” Opal said, panting. “Isn’t it beautiful?” The southern end of the Willamette Valley stretched out before them. There was still enough light to see Cottage Grove, where the Papa worked in the sawmill. The great firs bent their shadowed fingers, wrapping everything in the valley in twilight. Opal closed her eyes and tilted her head back. She spread her arms then folded them again to close up the breeze in an embrace. She opened her eyes and drew in her breath. “Here, listen!” She stroked the old gray horse’s large ears. “Do you hear the wind, William Shakespeare?” She whispered. “The wind has knowings of secrets she wants to share.”
“And what might those be, Princess?”
Opal turned to see a lanky fellow standing a few feet down the path. He had a friendly face though it was smudged and his shirt had sweat stains under the arms. At first she thought he wore a smock of some kind, long, and straight, and white – The Man from the coach – The Man Who Wears White. She blinked away the tears that the wind had brought on, and her vision cleared. His coat was slung over his shoulder and he held it on the crook of his finger. And, Opal noticed with a smile, he was wearing a gray necktie as he always did, though it wasn’t time for his naming yet. Still, now he belonged, because this was the first of all times she had truly met him, and his naming would be soon. He smiled back. She held up her finger and pointed to the sky. “Perhaps I should ask the wind for allows to tell you, sir, or else her secrets would be tellings.”
“All right then, fair enough,” he said. He walked up to the side of William Shakespeare and patted his sloped back. It was covered with long welts, some of them fresh.
“Are you one of the mill folk?” Opal asked.
He smiled again. “You know me, Princess. See?” He pointed to his gray necktie. “We met oh so long ago on this very hilltop. Remember?”
Opal shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “Not until now. This time.”
He folded his arms. “All right then,” he said. “The first time it is. Now, what about those secrets? What does the wind tell you?”
Opal frowned. “No, no, you are supposed to have asks about my knowings and the Papa and how the Choreboy does whip dear William Shakespeare. That’s how it was.”
The man smiled and pulled out a colored pencil, and a square piece of paper and wrote something on it. “Well, there I go for a fool. Please accept my apologies. Do tell me about the…”
“Can I see?” Opal interrupted, her eyes fixed on the red pencil the man was writing with. She held out her hand.
The man smiled, and spoke in a quiet remembering voice, “That’s right,” he said. “He always gave you…” Then he stopped. “You may keep it if you wish,” he said, and handed her the pencil and one of his squares of paper.
“Oh thank you, sir.” She held up the pencil for William Shakespeare to consider. “Isn’t it lovely, dear William Shakespeare? Now we can draw our letters.”
“Have you been making your letters, little one?” the man asked.
“Mm-hmm. And I have thinks I will write a book one fine day – maybe two.”
The man laughed, but not in an unkind way. “A book? Allright, then. What will it be about, this book of yours, Princess?”
Opal looked up at him with a question, “Did the fairies tell you?” she asked.
“About what? The book?” he asked.
“That I’m really a princess! You did call me ‘Princess’ three times now. Did the fairies say?”
“You know,” the man said, rubbing his chin. “That must have been how it happened.”
“Those fairies!” Opal laughed. “They do have gossips about them.”
“Is it all right if I call you Princess?” the man asked.
“You do always, yes,” she said. “And you are the Man Who Wears Gray Neckties and is Kind to Mice.”
“Indeed, I am,” he said, smiling. “And your book?”
“Oh,” Opal said, clapping her hands, “my book is all about the little people, and the fairies, and all my friends in the near woods, and about how they all come to my cathedral service. Angel Father did teach me to draw my letters. Not the Papa,” she said absently, gazing at the bright red pencil. “We have not such treasures in the farm house.” She lifted her head and picked up the lead rope. “We must give it a safe home – I know! The old log in the near woods on the way, where is the moss-box. No one knows! Now I must have walks back to the farmhouse, or the Mama will give me switches, won’t she, Felix?” she said, looking down and patting her apron gently.
“And how is Felix today?” Gray Neckties asked.
Opal reached into her apron pocket and pulled out the field mouse and handed it to the man. “Oh we had a tumble, but Felix Mendelssohn survived, thank thee,” she said.
“A tumble, eh? Let’s see,” he said, holding up the mouse and considering it carefully in the fading light. “An accurate diagnosis, Princess. You know, I’ve often wondered about Felix Mendelssohn – does he like music?”
“He does have appreciations for my singing,” Opal said. She looked up at the man and smiled as she took Felix and tucked him back into her pocket. “You are kind to mice. Most big folks aren’t,” she said. “Not the Mama. She doesn’t have likes for Felix Mendelssohn or Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus, and oh, she does switch me hard for feeding them bread crumbs.”
“‘Does she now?” Gray Neckties asked, rising to stand beside Opal, his hands in his pockets.
“And sends me under the bed,” Opal said, tugging at William Shakespeare. “And I will have bad feels all the night long. But not if I’m home for suppertime. Come, dear William Shakespeare.” The old horse maintained his slow pace down the hill.
Gray Neckties walked alongside. “And how are you this fine day, Will?” he asked, patting the old horse on his neck. “You don’t think he’ll mind my calling him Will, do you Princess?”
“Oh, not at all, his ways are the ways of gentleness. You see the guirlande I did make for him?” she asked, touching the ring of field flowers swinging loosely around the horse’s neck.
“Yes, quite beautiful,” Gray Neckties said. “A beautiful job, Princess.”
“Because,” she said, stopping to whisper into William Shakespeare’s ear, “his soul is very beautiful. And he has appreciations always for my giving.”