The Cottage in the Woods

The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville

Book: The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville Read Free Book Online
Authors: Katherine Coville
right?” Teddy asked, standing behind me.
    “Why, Teddy?” I asked.
    “I don’t like to wake her up,” he said evasively.
    “I’ll do it, Teddy. Stand back.”
    I leaned in and tapped her shoulder. Getting no result, I pushed her shoulder gently, then shook it. She reacted as if stung, leaping to her feet, jaws wide open, with that same guttural hiss and hateful glare she had frightened me with the night before. I stepped back, nearly tripping over Teddy, who was hiding behind my skirts, and waited for her to come to her senses.
    “Nurse?” came Teddy’s tight little voice as he peered out from behind me. “Can we go home now? I want to go home.”
    Nurse’s glare softened as she focused on Teddy, and as her ruffled fur settled, she seemed to make herself smaller and denser. “Home?” she repeated. Then, as if something had just occurred to her, she licked her chops and said, “Did you catch anything?”
    With sudden clarity I understood why Nurse had come to know this place. Refusing to think about it, I answered in the negative and, taking Teddy’s paw, headed back to the path.Nurse quickly caught up and grabbed Teddy’s other paw, pulling him away from me. Unwilling to put Teddy in the impossible position of being tugged in two directions, I relinquished his paw and took up my place behind them.
    As a climax to our trip, a tiny house sparrow left the cover of the woods and darted directly ahead of us. Our eyes were naturally drawn to its motion. I told myself later that there was no way I could have prevented what happened next, or Teddy’s seeing it. Almost instantaneously a sparrow hawk shot out of the upper canopy and plunged down on the little bird, snatching it from the sky and flying off with it clutched in its talons. As a few loose feathers drifted to the ground, my eyes went to Teddy. His mouth hung open in shock, and his eyes were tearing up. Nurse immediately turned and said, “Well, now you see what happens to BAD little birds, eh?” and laughed.
    “I’m not bad, right? I’m good! Ain’t I, Nurse? I’m good,” quavered Teddy.
    I was appalled. Uncaring of what Nurse might do to me, I knelt down to the cub, and, looking straight into his big, tear-filled eyes, said, “Yes, you’re very good, Teddy, but if little ones are bad sometimes, we do not kill them. We teach them how to do better, and we give them another chance.”
    I was expecting a counterattack from Nurse—a verbal tirade, or a threat. She merely looked away, with what might have been embarrassment, and went, “Hmph!” Then her whole demeanor changed. She turned to Teddy and said, “There, there, duck. You didn’t think I meant it, did you?” She stroked his paw as she continued. “Why, of course I didn’t mean it. It was just a little joke between
you
and
me
—and now your nasty governess has gone and scared you!” She returned my glare here, as if I hadbeen responsible for the whole thing. “Now just you come with Nursie, and we’ll go home and have cake with our tea. Won’t that be nice?” Without waiting for a reply, she gripped his paw firmly, and set off down the path again.
    Teddy managed to recover some equanimity, and I was left to wonder, as I followed them along, how often scenes like this took place. Was Teddy so perfectly behaved because he had grown up terrorized by Nurse’s thinly veiled threats? I could see that he loved her, but with his warm heart and innocence, it seemed that he loved her even when she mistreated him. Perhaps Nurse even loved him, in her way, and, like the sparrow hawk, simply couldn’t help her own predatory impulses, but I found I couldn’t exonerate her that easily. Everyone has their animal nature to overcome, after all.
    Whatever the case, our school day was over, and since I had no choice but to entrust Teddy to Nurse’s care, I took an affectionate leave of him, managed a stiff “Good day” to her, and returned to my chamber to freshen up before tea.
    Back in my

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