Donald Shephard

Merryandrew lay idly admiring the sunlight filtered by the bright green beech leaves of spring. No care marred the tranquility of his mind for he knew that when he next sat down to eat, his plate would present just enough food to keep him satiated for the day and when he lay down to sleep his bed would be warm all night. He had wandered deeper into the woods where the new leaves of the beeches, hornbeams and oaks muffled the chatter and song of the other children. He watched a puff of cloud sweep across the sky then rolled onto his stomach to hear the rustle of last year’s dry leaves beneath him.

He stood to shuffle his feet in the leaves and found he could collect a pile between his legs by keeping his heels close together and his toes fanned out. In no time at all he had a wall, a castle of leaves, around the beech tree and there between two large roots coiled an emerald green adder. He knew this small snake and stepped over the wall out of range of its fangs.

“Hello, little fellow, did I wake you from your winter nest?” said Merryandrew, “Are you still cold?”

A breeze tumbled the upper layer of leaves across the forest floor and drifted them over the adder covering it from view. Merryandrew took a twig to brush aside the leaves and expose the snake to the rays of the sun.

“There you go. That should warm you up.”

A stag beetle climbed laboriously over the leaves and across the snake. Neither animal took notice.

“Take care Mr. Beetle, adder may gobble you up although you look rather tough in your armor.”

“Who’re you talking to?”

Merryandrew turned around to see three boys he did not know, a skinny rat-faced kid with a red nose and identical twins in matching clothes.

“I told the beetle to beware of the snake.”

“What snake?” asked rat-face.

Merryandrew pointed the twig to the green coils of the adder between the roots where the stag beetle climbed the smooth bark.

The new boys studied these natural treasures then stood back.

”My name’s Robingoodfellow and these are the Richard twins, Toby and Moby.”

“I’m Merryandrew. Which of you is Toby and which is Moby?”

“I’ll show you once and then we’ll test you,” said Robingoodfellow.

“This is Toby,” he pointed at the twin on the left, “and this is Moby. Now they will both hide behind a tree and one will step out and you must guess his name.”

Other children ran over to join the game and Robingoodfellow lined them up to take their turns. Toby and Moby stepped behind an oak. Merryandrew looked at the boy who appeared around the left side of the trunk.

“Well is it Toby Richard or Moby Richard?” asked Robingoodfellow.

“Toby,” Merryandrew guessed.

“Moby,” said Robingoodfellow, “try again.” The twin looked surprised and Merryandrew went to the back of the line and watched.

The brothers hid again and one walked from the right side of the trunk. Truepenny guessed next.
          “Moby,” she said.

“Wrong! Toby, try again.”

Truepenny went to the end of the line behind Merryandrew who turned to her and said, “I found an adder and a stag beetle. I’ll show you them when the others have left, if you like.”

“Thanks,” said Truepenny and they turned to study the game.

“Look, Toby is the one with a chubbier face than his brother,” Merryandrew told her, “and Moby has whiter skin.”

“I see,” she smiled standing on tiptoe and clapping her hands.

When Merryandrew’s turn came again a grinning twin jumped out from the tree.

“Toby or Moby?” asked Robingoodfellow.

Merryandrew looked at the twin’s face, saw the fatter, less pale skin and identified Toby correctly. Each time his turn came he chose the right answer and so did Truepenny. When the other children tired of the game and drifted away, Merryandrew showed Truepenny the green coils of the adder but the stag beetle was nowhere to be seen. As they strolled homeward, she thanked him for pointing out the snake and for his help with identifying the twins.

“Come and have tea with me and mum,” said Truepenny.

Two septuagenarian men, one a resident, the other a visitor from England, sat in a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean sipping beer from battered Toby mugs. A white whale breeched too far out for their cataract-clouded eyes to see.

“What occupies that moth-eaten, mouse-eared brain of yours, Merry?”

“Well, you old reprobate, it drifts back to our meeting in the forest when I first spoke to my beloved Truepenny, God rest her soul, and you introduced me to the Richard twins. Did you keep up with them?”

“No. I lost track when I went to university. I have no idea if they are dead or alive. Did I ever tell you, we were jealous of your adder and stag beetle, so we lied on your first turn and told you that Toby was Moby.”

“Ah!” laughed Merryandrew pondering another round, “Toby or not Toby, that is the question.”

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