They walked on for a few minutes, Opal chattering away about her many animal friends. Gray Neckties smiled and nodded, and occasionally wrote something with another colored pencil on another white square that he took from his deep pocket. “You know, Opal, it would be nice if….” but Opal began to laugh. “What? Did I say something funny?” the man asked.
“Opal. You have knowings of my play name. How so?”
The man continued to walk alongside Opal and William Shakespeare with his hands folded behind his back. He looked as if he were thinking deep thoughts. “Perhaps the trees told me?”
“Oh, no. They only call me by my real name,” Opal said, shaking her curls and looking at the man out of the corner of her eye. “How came you by my play name?”
“I was playing a game with you, Princess. I know your Papa, remember? He told me your name. He’s a fine logger, and maybe a better storyteller. What do you think?”
Opal stopped in the middle of the path and looked up at the man, her arms folded. “The Papa makes room for my collections, but the Mama doesn’t have cares for all my many friends. And they have not knowings of my real name on any accounts.”
“Shhh,” Gray Neckties said, putting his finger to his lips. “Listen. Do you hear it? Who is this fine fellow, speaking in such rumbly tones?” he asked, pointing to a stately fir a few paces down the lane.
Opal stifled a giggle.
Gray Neckties leaned back and folded his arms. “I’ve made another blunder, haven’t I?” he asked.
“Sir, I have proud feels to introduce you to Queen Eleanor of Castile!” and she broke into peals of silver laughter.
“Oh, I beg pardon, your majesty!” the man said, doffing his cap to the fir, and bowing gracefully, his left leg extended. “How could I have taken such a lovely voice for that of a manly tree?”
“Queen Eleanor does have talkings in deep tones. You must have mistaken her for Good King Edward, there,” Opal said, pointing to a smaller fir standing close by. “But I didn’t hear her whisperings. What did Queen Eleanor say to you?”
“She whispered a name, but I’m not sure I heard it right – petite Françoise?”
Opal’s eyes widened and she clasped her hands in front of her mouth and bounced up and down on her toes. “Oh, yes! Yes, all the dear trees and the little people have knowings of Saint François of Assisi. And the leaves whisper, ‘Come, petite Françoise,’ and we go on explores down the lane to the near woods.”
She glanced back over her shoulder, down the lane toward the lumber shanty where she and her family lived, and then back to the man. “But the Mama has not knowings of that name, or my long name – but I must go hurries to supper now or she will give me switches just so! Come, William Shakespeare.”
A flash of gray and black drew Opal’s attention back to the lane. A German Shepherd trotted into the far end of the lane and stopped, lifting his head toward them and sniffing the air. He stood and stood, staring at them. Opal stopped as soon as she caught sight of the dog and squealed. William Shakespeare nickered low and lifted his head, his ears pointed forward.
Gray Neckties stopped short and placed his hand on her shoulder. “What is it, Princess? I can’t make it out…” he began, but Opal dropped William Shakespeare’s lead rope, and started running toward the dog. The dog barked once and began to run toward Opal full tilt.
“Opal, wait!” Gray Neckties shouted, but she kept running, her arms open wide – then the dog was on her, and she was on her back – laughing, and hugging the dog’s neck as it licked her face. The man trotted up with William Shakespeare in tow. “Your dog, I take it?”
“You must know Brave Horatius!” she said, laughing as she picked herself up.
“Of course. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while. Good boy.” Gray Neckties reached down and petted the dog, scratching behind his ears.
“Isn’t he brave?” Opal asked, holding the dog’s head in her small hands and gazing into his eyes.
“Braver than I am, that’s sure,” Gray Neckties said, catching his breath. “He gave me quite a start.”
The dog took the corner of Opal’s apron in his teeth and pulled. “He knows it’s home-going time,” Opal said as the dog tugged at her apron. “Brave Horatius pulls most hard when it’s suppertime. Yes, yes, all right, boy. Let’s go.” He released the apron and ran on ahead a few feet, then stopped and looked back, and barked again as Opal turned to pick up William Shakespeare’s lead rope. “He is a most smart dog,” Opal said, walking at a quicker pace now. “He goes with me to the field where the potatoes grow, and he remembers almost all of the poetry I have told them.”
“He’s a very smart dog, I can tell,” Gray Neckties said. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Princess. How are the dreams these days?”
Opal patted Brave Horatius and kept looking down the lane. “Oh lovely most times, give thee thanks. I sometimes or another will share them with Pearl if she has a mind, but she’s a bit young in human years so I do have talking times with Aphrodite.”
“So, not so bad any more, then? Your dreams?” he asked softly.
Opal stopped and lifted her head. “Listen,” she whispered.
“Opal!” the wind carried the voice through the trees. It sounded high and far away. “Opal! Supper!”
“Coming!” Opal shouted. “It’s the Mama,” she said to Gray Neckties. “She has worries.”
“Well,” he said, “I must leave now, Princess. I can see you’re in good company. Say hello to your Papa and your Mama for me, and don’t forget to do your printing. I would like to read your stories one day. Goodbye Will,” he said, giving the horse a final pat. “Rest well, tonight, Opal.”
“I shall,” Opal said, “and William Shakespeare says thank you for your kindness and the sugar lumps. And for the pencil and the card paper.” She waved goodbye as she walked down the lane, with the old gray horse following, and Brave Horatius leading the way. She paused after a few steps and looked back to see if the Man Who Wears Gray Neckties and is Kind to Mice might wave back.
He was gone, and she heard the sound of a click. As if a door had closed, and a lock had turned.