Salis (Chapter I)

Salis continued on her southward course, dodging thistle and briar, cobweb and lowing-hanging limb, but eventually found herself precisely where she had intended to be: lost. It was one of those sorts of arguments of which you can never afterwards remember the cause that had sparked her juvenile fury and burned a path through the woods. She had sharply pronounced her intention of running away, and, in step with her under-breath cadence and the slam of the screendoor, marched headlong into those solemn deciduous boughs with every intention of getting lost — of making them sorry.

But now this spiteful victor was losing her resolution. She was lost. They weren't lost. She knew where they were. But she had no bearing on her own relation to them. So it wasn't long — no, far less than long — before Salis gave up her frantic attempts at discovering some landmark or memorable trail and sat herself upon a fallen ash and wept.

After no more than the customary time of sobs and whimpers had past, she looked around to associate herself more closely with her situation: she was truly without even intuition to guide her home.

There is a childish innocence that brings not exactly courage, but suspension of fear. Courage knows what it faces, fears it, and triumphs over the fear. Innocence stands before certain peril and does not know what it faces, so cannot fear when fear would do it good. Innocence is composed of many good things, but it does have its troubles.

Now, there is an animal fear that instinctually reacts to a plain and immediate threat, like a growl or bared teeth, or to the absence of something to which it is used, like a mother or light — when I say fear, I don't mean that. There is a higher fear and it is more able — this is the kind I mean and it cannot be a property of innocence.

Young Salis had been trying to grow out of her innocence for some time (though she did not know it), and so she feared. This fear might have given way to courage, but as she looked around through ebbing crests of tears, the fear she ought to have felt much longer, and rightly so, unnaturally withdrew and vanished. Whatever chance at courage she might have had receded along with the fear, and she stood in an artifical and ignorant innocence quite below her years, with no care for the future.

Knowing neither how to be brave, nor how not to be, Salis swiftly forgot her present jeopardy and occupied herself with admiration for the tiny multitude of variegated forest flowers around her feet. This flower of lavender hue and crimson veins; that flower of brilliant red, seared on the edges by yellow; another in seeming indecision between orange and mauve — not two were alike in kind or color, excepting the pure white prospers, demure among the rest but gifted with the most extravagant and pleasing forms.

One bud alone, no bigger than a thumbnail and cast in sunny gold, drew her fancy from the jolly forum — it being set a little way off from the others like a naughty child or a sacred station. Being that much more beautiful to her — I can't say if it would have been quite so attractive to other little girls — she stepped carelessly forward to more closely appreciate its lines; and, with her third step, Salis' attention caught on a very unexpected sound from underfoot: a hollow wooden clump!

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