The snake lay coiled on the footbridge, its dark skin gleaming in the early morning sun like slick and shiny oil. Silken flashes of green and brown shimmered along its coiled length as it reflected the sunlight. The snake was beautiful.
Tim spied it immediately. “Look, Mama, a snake! A great big snake on the footbridge!” he exclaimed as he, Jan, and their mother walked toward the school bus.
“Oh, it’s so beautiful!” cried Jan, entranced.
“Yes, it certainly is a handsome snake,” agreed Mother. “If we’re lucky, it might come closer to our house and be our friend. A snake like that one could keep our yard clear of mice and rats.”
The next morning when the children walked through the woods on their way to the school bus, they saw the snake coiled in the same spot on the footbridge.
“That snake needs a name,” said Tim.
“I wonder what a good name for a snake would be,” Jan said.
“Well, I think it’s a girl snake,” Tim declared. “And because she’s so beautiful, how about calling her Beauty?”
And so Beauty she became.
The children looked forward to their morning walk to the school bus. There was always the chance that they would see Beauty again.
Beauty often raised her head now when the children came near her. She watched them carefully, her skin gleaming in the sun. One day Beauty opened her dainty mouth, and a tiny red tongue flicked back and forth. Tim and Jan were delighted with their new friend.
“She knows us! She knows us!” Tim shouted the first day Beauty raised her head and flicked her tongue at them. “Oh, Beauty, I wish you’d come and live in our yard.”
One day Tim left a dead mouse by the bridge that Tickles, their cat, had brought home. That evening when they returned from school, the snake and the dead mouse were gone.
The long spring passed into summer. School closed and the children no longer caught the school bus or passed over the footbridge every day. They were busy with garden chores. Days went by when they didn’t see Beauty.
Then one day Tim came running into the house, his eyes wild and filed with tears. “It’s Beauty, Mama. Something’s the matter with Beauty!”
“Calm down, Son, and take it easy,” Mother said. “Now tell me what’s wrong.”
“Beauty’s hurt. She’s coming apart, and everything’s leaking out of her. I found her in the bushes near the footbridge. Do something, Mama,” Tim pleaded. “Please help her. She might die.”
Jan had come into the room and was listening, her eyes wide with alarm. “We’re her friends, Tim. We’ll all help her, won’t we, Mama?”
Mother was silent for a moment. “I’ve never nursed a snake before,” she said hesitantly. “I’m sure it’s a gopher snake, but I don’t know what I can do for it.”
Looking at her children sympathetically, Mrs. Stacey made up her mind. “Let me get a basket,” she said, “and we’ll go take a look at Beauty and see what can be done.”
They hurried to the footbridge and peered into the bushes where Tim had seen Beauty. The snake had crawled even farther into the underbrush. Mother put down the basket, and Tim and Jan carefully lifted Beauty and laid her in it. Her shiny skin had been ripped open in several places, and it was turning dull.
“It looks as though someone has thrown rocks at her or poked her with a sharp stick,” said Mother.
All the way home Mother was thinking about what she could do. Back in the kitchen she said, “Tim, run to the bathroom and bring me that roll of adhesive tape. Jan, get me the scissors and some warm water and rags.” Then she cleared the table and covered it with newspapers.
Jan and Tim carefully transferred Beauty from the basket to the table. Her eyes were beginning to glaze over, her skin was torn and jagged and oozing blood, and she didn’t try to slither away when they lifted her.
Mother washed off the dried blood and the leaves and twigs that had stuck to Beauty’s open wounds, then patted her dry. Next, Mother cut strips of adhesive tape and wrapped them firmly around and around Beauty’s body, binding the raw edges of the cuts together. At last Mother was done.
“She looks like a zebra with black and white stripes!” Tim exclaimed. “Beauty, you’re a zebra snake! Mama, do you think she’ll live?” he asked.
“We’ve done all we can for her,” Mother said. “The rest is up to nature. Put the basket out in the sun behind the shed, and leave Beauty a bowl of water.”
The next morning the children ran to look behind the shed. Beauty was gone. The children mourned. Mrs. Stacey said, “She’s probably crawled off into the woods to hide until she’s healed.”
Summer passed into fall, and the children started school again. All through the fall and into the damp cold winter they trudged through the woods and across the footbridge, but they never saw any sign of Beauty in her favorite spot.
Then one day it was spring again. Tim ran outdoors looking for his baseball. There, coiled on a rock in the sun, lay a large snake. Tim ran to look at it. It seemed to be striped. What kind of snake is this? he wondered. Suddenly he let out a war whoop. “It’s Beauty!”
Jan and Mother ran outside. “Look, Jan!” shouted Tim. “She must have shed her old skin, and there are the markings from the adhesive tape on her new skin!”
Beauty certainly was odd-looking with her dark skin raggedly ringed with lighter places, but she was alive and well, and she had come back to live near her friends.