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Chapter Three: The Forest
The day that Whistler and Lila prepared for their journey into the trees was a beautiful one. The bluffs above the waves were covered with what Pandora called "paintbrush" -- hundreds of wildflowers in reds, oranges, and pinks. The sky was sapphire blue. The soft winds were cool and clean.
Pandora helped Lila with her sweater and bonnet while Seabold stood nearby and reminded Whistler of all the rules:
"Watch the compass.
"And come home when the sun is directly overhead. It will be time for lunch and Pandora is baking tarts."
"Tarts!" said Whistler. "We shall sniff our way back home!"
"Sniff and watch the compass," said Seabold.
Lila looked at Seabold as she straightened her bonnet.
"We will be very careful, Seabold," she said. "We are very good with the compass now."
"That you are," said Seabold. "I do believe you could find your way to the North Pole from here."
"I have a few friends there you might visit," Pandora said with a smile. "Among them a walrus who sings."
"Really?" asked Whistler.
"How did you meet a walrus?" asked Lila.
"Oh, he was just passing through," said Pandora. "And he had a sore throat."
"Did you help him?" asked Lila.
"A cup of roseroot tea and he was singing like a bell," said Pandora.
"Well, we aren't going as far as the North Pole," said Whistler. "At least not today."
Pandora smiled again.
"I should hope not," she said. "One should always come home for tarts."
"Yes," said Lila.
Seabold handed the children their twine bags and a walnut flask filled with water.
"The compass," reminded Seabold.
"Right-o," said Whistler.
And with a kiss from each on Tiny's soft head, the two children stepped out the door.
"I think that once we are in the forest, we should search for a fairy ring," Lila said to Whistler as they walked along the cliff toward the woods.
"What is a fairy ring?" asked Whistler.
"It's a circle of mushrooms under a tree," said Lila. "Once, Pandora told me that when she was little, she collected them for her mother. Her mother cooked them into a nice soup."
"I'm just hoping to look at bugs," said Whistler.
"Ugh," said Lila.
As the children drew nearer the dark forest, the trees seemed to grow taller and taller with each step. Hemlock, cedar, spruce, and fir -- all rose up to the sky in tight rank, blocking out the sunlight.
Whistler checked the compass as he and Lila looked behind them toward home.
"I know where we are," said Whistler.
"So do I," said Lila. "I can see the lighthouse right over there."
"Well," said Whistler, "in a fog the compass would have guided us."
"I am counting on it," said Lila, "for I can already taste those tarts."
Looking back toward home one last time, the two children turned and walked into the woods.
"It's so chilly in here," Lila said, "but I like it."
Whistler looked up at the branches hung with lichens like long, gray beards.
"The trees feel old," he said.
"And wise," answered Lila.
The children walked farther. Everywhere giant ferns and mossy logs covered the forest floor. Whistler stepped inside one of the logs.
"There's a good, green smell in here," he said.
Lila stepped in too.
"This would be perfect for playing house," she said.
"Even pirates," said Whistler. "It feels like a ship."
The children walked even farther. The forest was so quiet. It was different from the seashore, which was always noisy with the beating of waves and the calling of gulls. The forest was still. It seemed to be listening to the soft voices of two little mice carrying two twine bags and a compass.
"Look!" said Lila. "A fairy ring!"
Indeed, at the foot of a tall fir, in a bed of green moss, lay a circle of soft, heavy mushrooms.
"They're beautiful," said Lila.
"I know," said Whistler.
The fairy ring glistened in the cool, damp moss.
"I almost don't want to pick them," said Lila.
"Neither do I," said Whistler. "They're perfect."
"Let's leave them," Lila said. "We'll bring home huckleberries instead."
"Right," answered Whistler. "We'll check the compass now and start turning back."
He reached into a pocket. Then he reached into another pocket. He went back to the first pocket. Then he went back to the second.
"Lila...," Whistler began.
His sister looked at him.
"Oh no," she said.
Text copyright © 2004 by Cynthia Rylant