Reginald in Russia and Other Stories
"There is a wild beast in your woods," said the artist Cunningham, as he was being driven
to the station. It was the only remark he had made during the drive, but as Van Cheele
had talked incessantly his companion's silence had not been noticeable.
"A stray fox or two and some resident weasels. Nothing more formidable," said Van
Cheele. The artist said nothing.
"What did you mean about a wild beast?" said Van Cheele later, when they were on the
"Nothing. My imagination. Here is the train," said Cunningham.
That afternoon Van Cheele went for one of his frequent rambles through his woodland
property. He had a stuffed bittern in his study, and knew the names of quite a number of
wild flowers, so his aunt had possibly some justification in describing him as a great
naturalist. At any rate, he was a great walker. It was his custom to take mental notes of
everything he saw during his walks, not so much for the purpose of assisting
contemporary science as to provide topics for conversation afterwards. When the
bluebells began to show themselves in flower he made a point of informing every one of
the fact; the season of the year might have warned his hearers of the likelihood of such an
occurrence, but at least they felt that he was being absolutely frank with them.
What Van Cheele saw on this particular afternoon was, however, something far removed
from his ordinary range of experience. On a shelf of smooth stone overhanging a deep
pool in the hollow of an oak coppice a boy of about sixteen lay asprawl, drying his wet
brown limbs luxuriously in the sun. His wet hair, parted by a recent dive, lay close to his
head, and his light-brown eyes, so light that there was an almost tigerish gleam in them,
were turned towards Van Cheele with a certain lazy watchfulness. It was an unexpected
apparition, and Van Cheele found himself engaged in the novel process of thinking
before he spoke. Where on earth could this wild-looking boy hail from? The miller's wife
had lost a child some two months ago, supposed to have been swept away by the mill-
race, but that had been a mere baby, not a half-grown lad.
"What are you doing there?" he demanded.
"Obviously, sunning myself," replied the boy.
"Where do you live?"
"Here, in these woods."
"You can't live in the woods," said Van Cheele.