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the Feral Wolf Twins Go To the Country
chapter 7: a Lingering Glance

by Justice H. Baldenbrach   June 16, 2003
(as read to eli in a monotone voice by his robot babysitter)

Little Sigmundt did not wake up the next morning.

"Mere sloth is the probable cause," suggested Sir Leopold.

"Drunkeness, I should say," remarked Enid. "Or death."

"No, no, no," snapped Franklin Allgemeine Zeitung impatiently. "He is not dead, but merely comatose. I shall go to town to fetch the doctor." He allowed that Dickie and Eleanor might go with him in the big black carriage, and so they set out in haste, while Enid and Sir Leopold remained behind to sponge away the copious white foam that now issued from between Sigmundt's clenched jaws.

Through the dark swamp they rode, and then along the dusty road that wound through the budding fields, and finally across the plank bridge that lead past the white church to the village square. There was a man standing next to the post-office, with a knot of villagers and rustic farmers surrounding him; and while Franklin Allgemeine Zeitung drove the carriage across the square to the doctor's house, the Wolf Twins jumped down to join the little crowd.

The man was dressed in a long velvet bathrobe. He wore a monocle screwed into one eye, and leaned on a gold-tipped cane, for one of his legs was missing; there was a wooden peg in its place, and a slipper on the remaining foot. To the man's left, a liveried servant was busy affixing a placard to the post-office wall, and if Dickie and Eleanor could read, they would have seen that the placard announced Count Otto's Annual Twig, Nut, and Moss Harvest Ball. Diana Royce-Slaughter stood at the man's other side, also wearing a monocle, and gently sobbing from boredom.

"My dear peons," said the bathrobed Count, for of course it was he. "For all the gay year 'round, you struggle in fields you do not own to sell the fruits of your labor to your lord and master, namely: me. But soon," and here he spread his hands as if in benediction, "soon the twigs, nuts, and moss shall grow, and later ripen, and then it will be time for the Twig, Nut, and Moss Harvest Ball!"

The crowd murmured excitedly and pressed forward. "The Ball, of course, is not just a time to let your foul, unwashed hair down," continued the Count. "No, no. It is a time when, according to country custom, young men court the ladies who shall become their wedded brides!" The Count paused, his head bowed and his hand on his breast. "I need scarcely add that, since the untimely death of my own dear wife, the Contessa, I too shall be engaged at this year's Ball in the very same design; for what father would wish to leave his darling child forsaken from the gentle caress of a mother's affection?" The Count placed one hand on Diana Royce-Slaughter's shoulder, and the girl recoiled haughtily. "I need no mother, now that I have made my blind cousin my drudge," she sneered.

"Oh, ho, ho" chortled the Count. "What a sweet little gosling you are, my child. Oh, my. Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. This year, I, Count Otto Royce-Slaughter, wish to announce that I intend to wed the young woman who distinguishes herself best at the festival in the qualities of grace, modesty, and constancy: if you will, the Belle of the Ball, ha ha!" The little crowd applauded. "Yes, yes," smiled the Count, his hands twitching. "She will not only share my tremendous wealth, and the love of my precious children, but also the curse that has dogged me these past thirty years: the curse of my haunted peg-leg! Yes, there it is, it's haunted. Get a good look at it. All right, that's about it for now. See you at the Ball! Huzzah! Huzzah!"

The Count turned to clamber aboard a waiting donkey that knelt nearby; as he did so, his monocled eye swept the crowd, and happened to land on the Feral Wolf Twins, first Dickie, then Eleanor, where it fixed and lingered.

For an instant, Eleanor felt his gaze burning on her cheek; she turned in confusion, and fled across the square, with startled Dickie loping along behind her.

They found Franklin Allgemeine Zeitung helping a small, wizened man in a black coat into the family carriage. "The doctor," explained Franklin Allgemeine Zeitung, handing the old man a large jarful of leeches.

The ride back to the Von Kanker farm was swift and uneventful; the doctor passed the time by reminiscing over notable bloodlettings he had performed through the years. At the farmhouse, the doctor shuffled through the parlor and bent over little Sigmundt's prostrate, gently vibrating body as it lay on its tiny cot.

"He suffers from an inbalance of bodily humors," he announced gravely after a few minutes. "This is caused by mischevous Imps entering his body through his bowels and spleen. They must be drawn out by a course of bloodletting. Er," and here he patted Eleanor's hand reassuringly, "perhaps it would be wise to remove the ladies while I prepare the leeches." Eleanor, however, did not hear him, for her thoughts were still back at the village square; and she felt not the doctor's papery hand on hers but instead the Count's fiery ogling all over her body, and she shivered at its touch, though she did not know why.

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