The Truth About Birds and Bees
"And there was a terrible storm that night, and the waves rose like blood-thirsty giants ready to swallow us all. The wind howled like a hungry wolf, and the hail pelted against the deck so strongly that we thought we were under a shower of rocks. The ship was violently tossed to and fro, and all of us kept sheltered inside, petrified and expectin' that to be our last night on man's earth."
The two eight-year-old children listened unblinkingly to the story that their Grandpa Teaspoon was telling them. "And what happened?" asked Mattie. His blue eyes, which exactly mirrored his father's, stared at the old marshal with adoration. He liked nothing better than the special stories that Teaspoon told him whenever he visited, and stayed for dinner. From time to time, his parents also entertained him with tales of their own when they were Pony Express riders, but none could be compared to the ones Teaspoon described.
"The night passed, and miraculously that morning we were still alive. Fate had ignored us, and, oh thank God, we were granted the wonderful gift of life. Little by little we started to come up to the deck to greet the sun, and the beautiful, cloudless sky. But then… we realized we weren't alone… somethin' else was waitin' for us, a sight we weren't expecting… there in the silence of the immense, endless ocean."
"What was it?" Little Ike asked, unable to keep quiet. The intensity of his black eyes was such that it seemed they were going to pop out at any moment. As Teaspoon did not reply at once, he shared a fearful look with his friend and sidekick. The story was starting to scare them, but even though they might suffer from nightmares tonight, they did not want the marshal to stop. "Grandpa Teaspoon, what was it?"
"A whale… the most beautiful whale anybody has ever seen. It was magnificent, its liquid skin shinin' against the mornin' sun and its eyes directed to our ship as if challengin' us. For long minutes nobody moved, just contemplatin' the breathtakin' view before us, but suddenly, the captain's voice resounded, breakin' the peace, urgin' us to hunt our enemy."
"Enemy?" echoed Mattie in confusion.
"Exactly. Our big enemy… the whale. It was our aim from the moment we set off. All the crew dashed to the boats, armed with harpoons, and ready for the big battle. The peaceful mornin' turned into a war, and all of us, poor men, fought bitterly against the big fish. The animal responded as fiercely as it had been attacked. It wasn't easy, and some men even fell, but after a long, bloody battle, man beat the beast."
"Oh…" both children exclaimed in unison.
"That was my first and only experience on a whalin' ship. It wasn't brief, though,… I stayed on that ship for very long months, and learned all I know about the life on those waters. But in the end, boys, I decided that wasn't for me. This old dog belongs to the land, and the sea is… well, too dangerous and mysterious for this poor man."
"Isn't it also dangerous to fight bandits and criminals?" asked Mattie again.
"Uh… yeah, but it's a different kind of danger."
Teaspoon racked his brain to answer Little Ike's question, but he was saved when Louise came into the living room and said, "Matt, say your goodnights. Your brother and sister are already in bed, and you should be too."
Mattie was about to protest when his friend's mother also talked. "You're right, Lou. It's time for us to go home."
"Young man, you heard your mother, and I don't want to hear any more protests," Buck piped in as he rose to his feet from the sofa, where he had been discussing some matters about the ranch with Kid. "It's too late."
Without saying another word, Little Ike got ready to leave. He was pouting unhappily in the same way as his friend Matt was. The adults exchanged smiles at the children's attitudes. "Don't sulk, boys. This ain't the end of the world. Tomorrow is another good day, and I can tell you more stories soon."
The boys just nodded, but were not convinced by Teaspoon's words. Mattie uttered a morose good night, and started up the stairs with his mother in tow, who followed him very slowly due to the fact she was heavy with the new baby she was expecting. Kid remained downstairs, bidding goodbye to tonight's guests. Calling Teaspoon, Buck and the rest guests was clearly an overstatement, since they were around most of the time. He and Buck were partners at the ranch they had run successfully for over fifteen years, and both families were closer than some real families were. Even their children behaved as if they shared blood ties. Matt and Ike were like brothers, always playing together, always plotting together, always planning some mischief. They were terrible, and had given their parents more than one headache, and everybody was always wondering what their next move would be.
Teaspoon sighed in contentment, wiping his mouth after enjoying a wonderful lunch and the pleasure of his own company. It was a beautiful day outside; a splendid, cloudless sky reigned above, and the shining sun generously supplied the earth and its inhabitants with endless energy. Teaspoon loved the spring season, especially days when he could have some peace and quiet, without anybody disturbing him. His cells were empty, Barnett was not in, and there were no problems in sight. What else could he ask for?
Closing his eyes, he got ready to give himself the pleasure of a little nap. Yet, just a few minutes had passed when he heard steps coming inside, and much to his chagrin he opened his eyes again. His mouth twitched into a pleased grin when he spotted his visitors. "My, my, who do we have here? My favorite boys!"
"Ma and Aunt Lou are at Tompkins' store and they let us come here in the meantime," Ike explained as both he and his friend Mattie walked into the office.
"And it's a real pleasure for this old dog to receive the visit of such distinguished gentlemen," Teaspoon exclaimed, pulling out some chairs for the two boys to sit. "Would you boys like some water? It's a warm day, ain't it?"
Both boys shook their heads in unison as they sat down. They kept sending each other wary looks, which did not go unnoticed by the marshal. Teaspoon watched them with curiosity, and soon Mattie cleared his throat and asked, "Grandpa, you always say we can talk to you about everything."
"Exactly… you can bring anythin' to me, and when I say anythin', I mean literally anythin'."
"And you know so much about everything," Ike added.
Teaspoon grinned, pleased and proud with himself. "That's because I'm almost as old as the mother earth," he joked.
The boys paused. Mattie looked into the man's eyes, and stated, "Grandpa, we need to talk to you man to man."
"Yes, from man to man," Ike confirmed his friend's words, bobbing his head up and down energetically.
The marshal tried to conceal the smile that threatened with showing onto his lips. The boys looked very serious, and clearly believed that the matter was very important. Teaspoon folded his arms over his chest, and comfortably leaned back on his chair. "So what do you boys want to talk about then?"
There was a pause, and then Ike blurted out, "About mating…"
At his answer, Teaspoon was overcome by a sudden coughing fit as his eyes widened in clear surprise. "Wh… what?" he managed to say.
"You know, mating, babies and all that," Mattie added, joining his two index fingers for demonstration while a little smile danced on his lips.
"Matin', babies and all that," Teaspoon echoed, copying the boy's gesture, moving his fingers shakily, and the two children nodded in unison. The marshal frowned, and breathed out nervously, as he tried to find something to say. "Hold on there, boys. Look… hmm, I… well, you know, I'm honored you trust me so much to talk about such an important matter. But, well, you know, this is somethin' you should talk to your parents about."
"But, grandpa, they have no idea about it!" Matt exclaimed.
"No idea uh?"
"Absolutely no idea," Ike added.
"I see," Teaspoon replied, feeling unable to escape from the two boys' inquisitive eyes. He coughed again, trying to find a way out, but it was clear that they would not let go, so the marshal said, "Okay. Let's do something. You go now, and let me have some time to put my ideas in order. Will you do this for me?" The children agreed silently, and Teaspoon smiled uncomfortably. "We'll talk about this later, all right?"
"My pleasure," Teaspoon replied, plastering a fake smile and rising to his feet. Both boys filed to the door as the marshal tilted his hat to them in a courteous way. When the eight-year-olds finally walked out, his smile vanished as he slumped back onto his chair. "Blasted children. And blasted me and my big trap!"
Her basket dangling from her arm, Rachel contentedly breezed down Rock Creek's main street. As she walked, her mind went over the different items she had to get from Tompkins' or else, she might forget something like usual. Coming closer to the jailhouse, the school teacher spotted Teaspoon, sitting in a relaxed pose outside his office, and did not hesitate to go straight to him. "Hey, Teaspoon!" she greeted, almost startling the marshal, who, absentminded as he was, had not noticed Rachel's presence until now.
"Oh hi, Rachel."
The woman took a seat on the bench next to him. "Where did you get lost to last night? We were all at Buck's and expected you to come."
"Uh… yeah, I know," Teaspoon muttered, nodding at the same time.
"Is something wrong?"
"Let's say there were some people I didn't wanna see."
"Who are you talking about?" Rachel asked, visibly surprised.
"Mattie and Ike."
Teaspoon then proceeded to explain his little problem with the two boys. When he finished his account, the woman let out a loud peal of laughter. "It ain't funny, Rachel."
"I imagine that since Lou is so obviously pregnant, the children must've grown curious," the woman mused. "They are older since the last time… when she had little Jed."
"Well, Lou and that husband of hers should take care of their children's matters because this marshal is too old for all this hassle. And this applies to Buck too! " Teaspoon exclaimed a bit irritated. "I never even had children of my own. What do I know about these things?"
Rachel could not help but smile. "But they love you as if you were their real grandfather."
At her words, Teaspoon softened. "You're right. I have a soft spot for them too," the marshal said with a smile, and after a brief pause, he added, "Rachel, you have to help me out. Talk to them for me, please."
"Oh no," Rachel replied sternly, shaking her head at the same time.
"You're their teacher and are more used to dealin' with these things," the marshal insisted in a begging tone.
"I couldn't do that. You shouldn't betray the trust they've placed in you, Teaspoon. They've searched you out for some reason, and you should feel pleased they value your teachings so much," Rachel replied, and over the marshal's head she noticed some movement up the street. "By the way, you better get ready because they're coming."
Teaspoon turned his head to realize that Rachel was not joking. Mattie and Ike were running towards where he stood, waving their hands, and calling his name. Louise followed them at a certain distance, slowly walking hand in hand with her three-year-old. The boys reached the marshal and their teacher raucously, and stood before them with big smiles.
"Hi Grandpa! Hi, Aunt Rachel!" they greeted almost in a chorus.
"What are you up to, boys?" the teacher asked, ruffling Ike's shiny, black hair.
"Nothing," Matt replied, looking as if he were an angel who had come down directly from heaven.
Louise had already reached them, and stood a few feet from her friends. She greeted them, and then added, "I'm taking Jed to Dr. Maxwell's. He woke up this morning with a slight cough. Teaspoon, do you mind if Matt and Ike stay with you meanwhile? I won't be long."
Teaspoon hesitated, but before he could say something, Rachel stepped in. "Of course he doesn't mind," the teacher said, smiling and thinking Teaspoon must be cursing her mentally at that moment. "And, Lou, let me walk there with you. I was also going in that direction."
The women bid goodbye to the marshal, and once alone with the boys, Teaspoon felt cornered and trapped with no way out. Once years ago, he had been attacked by a wolf, and the moment before the animal threw itself against him felt almost like he was feeling now. Yet, looking at the children's angelical faces Teaspoon could not help but melt. His eyes shifted from one boy to the other as he said, "Well, I imagine you hope we can have our little conversation now." Both boys nodded without hesitation. "Let's get inside then."
Teaspoon took his seat at his usual place under his desk while the children sat on the same chairs they had taken a couple of days ago. The marshal shifted uncomfortably, rested his elbows on the surface of the table, and joined his hands in a fashion that almost seemed he was praying. For a while he kept quiet, and then he cleared his throat, starting uncomfortably. "Well… boys… let's see." He paused again to look at the boys, who stared back at him with keen interest. "Well, yes… you know, when a man and a woman… you see, when… when they love each other, they usually get hitched, so they…" The marshal stopped his clumsy account when he realized that the boys sent each other puzzled looks. "What?"
"Grandpa, we aren't five anymore," Mattie exclaimed matter-of-factly.
"Oh…yes… yes, of course, I know" Teaspoon replied, even though he was not sure what he was getting into. "I was just trying to explain…"
"We want to ask you something," Ike added, cutting the marshal off.
"Well, shoot your question then," Teaspoon said warily, crossing his arms over his bulging stomach.
"Things are like this," Mattie began. "The horse mounts the mare."
"The bull mounts the cow," Ike continued
"And the stag the doe." Matt paused briefly. Teaspoon listened to them attentively, unable to make head or tail of this, when the boy added, "And things are pretty similar for most other animals. But how about fish?"
"Fish?" the marshal echoed in bewilderment.
"Yes, fish," Ike continued. "How do fish do that?"
"Fish?" Teaspoon repeated, completely flabbergasted.
"We already know about the rest of the animals. You know, we live at a ranch, and our pas raise and breed cattle," Ike explained, stating the logical since Teaspoon looked strangely lost.
"But what about fish, Grandpa?" Mattie insisted, repeating his gesture of joining his two small index fingers as he had done a couple of days ago. "You must've learned all that when you were on that whaling ship."
Teaspoon stared at the two boys, still in disbelief, and out of the blue, he burst out laughing. The children sent each other looks, as if wondering if the marshal had gone crazy all of a sudden. "You boys are the best…simply the best," he exclaimed, still chuckling at the same time. He rose to his feet, and placed his hat on his head. "And that deserves a nice treat. What about a nice cup of cocoa and a scrumptious piece of Mrs. Reynold's apple pie?"
"But will you tell us about fish, Grandpa?" Ike insisted as he and his friend followed Teaspoon out of the office.
"Fish, whales, even seahorses…," Teaspoon replied with a big smile. "You ask and I'll tell you anything you like. I'm more than happy to satisfy my boys' intellectual aspirations because that's what grandpas are for, ain't we?"