Innocence abroad

My wife was preparing breakfast as I stood at a dining room window gazing beyond a sentinel row of palm trees at the early morning sun forcing its rays through wisps of Texas fog. Our three-year-old daughter, Becky, was in the backyard, her attention riveted to the antics of a pair of quarreling blue jays.

Suddenly I snapped to attention. An awesome creature, ugly and misshapen, was meandering up the alley. In the hazy light of the early morning it appeared like a monster out of the past. It was a huge thing, armed with long, curving tusks; down its high arched back ran a great ridge, crowned with stiff bristles. I realized suddenly what it was: a pugnacious javelina, the fierce wild hog of the Southwest plains country.

I took no time to ponder where it came from or how it had managed to penetrate a thickly populated residential section, for it was progressing slowly , grunting, sniffing and rooting with its long snout as it ambled along. I started to shout to Becky to run inside, but I was too late. She and the animal had sighted each other simultaneously. The grunting shifted to a low menacing rumble. The tip of the long nose was an inch from the ground, gleaming button eyes were fastened on my daughter, the beast's four stubby legs were braced to charge.

I started to dash up the stairs for a gun but knew I could never get it in time. As though hypnotized, I stared at the drama that was unfolding just a few yards away.

Becky was approaching the javelina, hands outstretched, making gurgling childish sounds as she advanced. The hog stood its ground and the grunts became more threatening. I looked at those fearsome tusks and the sharp even teeth - one slash could lay a man open.

I started to call to my wife, but something held me mute. If she should look out the window and scream, a chain reaction might be touched off that could end in terrible tragedy.

Becky, who had been only a few steps away from the beast when they first sighted each other, closed the distance between them with calm deliberation. With hands still outstretched, she reached the side of the beast. One small hand went up to a tough, bristly ear and began scratching it. The deep-throated rumblings gradually turned into a gravelly, almost purring sound. I thought irrelevantly of the idling of a powerful motor. The top of the round, wet nose was gently nudging against Becky's ankle. The animal seemed actually to be enjoying the attention he was receiving, and my pulse beat slowly dropped to normal. Some perception within the ugly creature must have told him that he had nothing to fear from this tiny child.

The encounter ended as abruptly as it had begun. Becky suddenly turned away and came toward the house. The javelina seemed to realize that the short love feast was over and slowly ambled on its way.

Becky passed me as she came through the room. ''Nice doggie, Daddy,'' she said nonchalantly.

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