Sitting in our favorite chairs at the Crawdad Club last evening, Wilson Hahn and I had just begun an interesting discussion of the merits of slate for gravestone carving when Musty Groves burst into the room and collapsed into the chair beside us.
“Bring me a Scotch,” he groaned to Wetherbury, our ever-present club attendant.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, somewhat concerned.
Musty answered with a wave of dismissal. Only after we had watched him finish the first drink and order a second did he began to speak. Wilson and I listened with rapt attention. Like most antique dealers, Musty is not an excitable person.
“I left the store this evening about 8,” he began. “It being such a pleasant evening, I decided to walk up Sanderling’s Run to unwind. I had reached a bit past Aedre’s Rock and was working my way upstream when I noticed someone ahead. I stopped, unable to believe the sight. About midstream of one of the larger pools in that section of the run, backlighted by the setting sun, was a woman–a water nymph–standing in the water. Gentlemen, she was naked.”
“Naked?” Wilson and I asked in unison.
“Naked,” he repeated.
“Naked,” we said again, being old enough to understand what the word implied.
“I froze, not knowing what to do,” Groves continued. “A big boulder lay between me and the unexpected woman, so I ducked out of sight behind it and scooched as low as I could, my heart about to jump out of my chest. Then I snuck along toward the far end, keeping my head down while watching for poison ivy. I watched for sticks, too, because I knew that a single sound would send her scurrying away, and I couldn’t let that happen. When I reached the end of the rock I crouched on all fours, and ever so slowly, peered around the edge. She was standing in the pool, her back toward me. The sound of the water had allowed me to approach closely without her detecting me, you see. Her wet, naked body looked downright other-worldly, the way her skin glowed in the failing light. The droplets running down her back reminded me of pearls, but I didn’t look.
“You didn’t?” I asked.
“My Daddy would say it’s what you do when no one is looking that determines your true character, and I remembered that, and averted my eyes out of respect, as any gentleman would. When she stopped splashing and stood motionless in the stream, I knew that any movement on my part would announce my presence, yet I felt strangely compelled to stand, walk the few remaining yards, and speak. Only I didn’t know what I would say. Then my foot began to cramp, and when I shifted position, I forgot to look and snapped a branch. The sound cracked through the forest. She screamed and plunged into the water, so only her head was showing. I covered my eyes and approached the water, looking down at my feet.
“Mother, I says, let me take you back to the nursing home.”