The Curly-Haired Hen
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Hagen von Eitzen and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: Yollande appears emerging from her shroud.]
THE CURLY-HAIRED HEN
TEXT AND ILLUSTRATIONS
NORA K. HILLS
Mother Etienne's Farm
A Mother's Devotion
Father Gusson's Secret
Sir Booum Calls upon Mother Etienne
Sir Booum's Circus
Mother Etienne's Dream
Mother Etienne's Fortune
Triumph of the Ointment
MOTHER ETIENNE'S FARM
"Oh Grandfather, tell us a story, do. You know, the one you began
the other evening about Mother Etienne's big farm. You remember.
The weather is so bad and we can't go out. Go on, Grandfather,
Coaxingly the three children clung round their grandfather,
looking at him beseechingly. He adoring the children as he did,
loved to hear them plead.
At last he began:
Since you have been very good, and you want it so much, I will
tell you the wonderful story of Mother Etienne's farm and the
still more wonderful story of what happened to one of its
Love animals, my children, be kind to them, care for them, and you
will surely have your reward.
Mother Etienne was a good stout woman with a very kind heart.
While still young she was so unfortunate as to lose her husband
and her son of whom she was very fond. This made her, as you can
imagine, very, very sad. She wouldn't listen to any new offers of
marriage though she had plenty of them. Instead, she devoted her
life, her whole existence, to the attentive, nay I ought to say,
the maternal care, of the animals on her farm, making them as
comfortable as could be.
She had, as I said before, a most excellent heart, the good Mother
Etienne. You shall see that presently.
This good woman then lived on her big farm, very spacious and
admirably situated. A slate roof covered the large house; the
granaries, stables and outhouses were sheltered by old thatching
upon which grew moss and lichen.
Let me tell you now, dear children, who were the chief occupants
of the farm. First there was big "Coco"--a fine Normandy
horse--bay-coloured and very fat, whose silky coat had a purple sheen;
he had a star on his forehead and a pink mark between his eyes. He
was very gentle and answered to the voice of his mistress. If
Mother Etienne passed by his stable he never failed to scent her
and whinnied at once. That was his way of showing his friendliness
His good mistress spoiled him with all sorts of dainties.
Sometimes a crust of bread, sometimes a handful of carrots, but
what he loved best of all was sugar. If you had given him a whole
loaf he would soon have eaten it up.
Coco had for stable companions three fine Swiss cows. Their names
were La Blonde, Blanchotte, and Nera. You know what the colours
were for the names, don't you?
Petit-Jacques, the stable boy, took care of them. On fine days he
led them to pasture into a bog paddock near the farm up against a
pretty wood of silver beeches. A large pond of clear water covered
one corner of the meadow and lost itself in the reeds and iris.
There the fine big cows went to quench their thirst; quantities of
frogs went there, too, to play leap-frog. It was a veritable
From the farm Mother Etienne caught the sound of the large bronze
bells each with its different low note, which hung round the necks
of the cows; thus she could superintend their comings and goings
without interrupting her various occupations. For the farm was
very big, as I told you, and had many animals on it.
After the stables and coachhouses came the piggery, the rabbit
hutches, and finally an immense poultry-yard divided into a
thousand compartments, and sheltering a whole horde of poultry of
all sorts; fowls of all kinds and of all breeds, geese,
guineafowl, pigeons, ducks, and what all besides. What wasn't
there in that prodigious poultry-yard?
Mother Etienne spent most of her time there, for the smaller and
more delicate the creatures the more interest and care she gave
"The weak need so much protection," this excellent woman would
say, and she was right.
So for the baby ducks her tenderness was limitless. What dangers
had to be avoided to raise successfully all these tiny folks!
Did a pig escape? Immediately danger threatened the poultry-yard.
For a pig has terrible teeth and he doesn't care what he eats--he
would as soon crunch a little duckling as a carrot. So she had to
watch every minute, every second even. For besides, in spite of
the vigilance of "Labrie," the faithful watchdog, sometimes rats
would suck the blood of the young pigeons. Once even a whole
litter of rabbits was destroyed that way.
To dispose of the products of her farm, Mother Etienne drove twice
a week to market in her market-cart drawn by Coco.
She was famed for the best vegetables, the purest and creamiest
milk; in short, the eggs she sold were the freshest, the poultry
and rabbits the tenderest and most juicy to be had. As soon as she
and Coco came trotting into the market there was a rush to get to
There, as everywhere, everyone loved Mother Etienne.
A MOTHER'S DEVOTION
Thus time passed peacefully at the big farm.
One day, however, the quiet was disturbed by a little drama which
convulsed the calm but busy spot.
Mother Etienne had given to a Cochin-China hen, which she had
christened Yollande, some white duck's eggs to sit on. The batch
of fifteen eggs had all come out. It was really wonderful to see
these fifteen baby ducks, yellow as canaries, beaks and webbed
feet pink, swarming around the big patient sitting mother, ducking
under her wings, to come out presently and clamber helter-skelter
onto her broad back. As often happens with nurses, Yollande loved
the ducklings as her own children, and without worrying about
their shape or plumage, so different from her own, she showered
upon them proofs of the tenderest affection. Did a fly pass within
their reach, all these little ones jumped at it--tumbling in their
efforts to catch it. The little yellow balls with their wide-awake
air never took a second's rest.
Well cared for and well fed, they grew so rapidly that soon they
had to have more space. Mother Etienne housed them then on the
edge of the pond in a latticed coop opening onto a sloping board
which led down to the water. It was, as it were, a big swimming
bath, which grew gradually deeper and deeper. The ducks and geese
loved to plunge in and hardly left the water except to take their
Yollande felt very out of place in this new dwelling. The
ducklings on the contrary, urged on by their instinct, madly
enjoyed it and rushed pell-mell into the water.
This inexplicable impulse terrified their mama. She was, in fact,
"as mad as a wet hen."
She ran up and down, her feathers on end, her face swollen, her
crest red, clucking away, trying to persuade her babies not to
venture into the water. For hens, like cats, hate the water. It
was unspeakable torture to her. The children would not listen;
deaf to her prayers, her cries, these rascally babies ventured
farther and farther out. They were at last and for the first time
in their favourite element, lighter than little corks, they
floated, dived, plunged, raced, fought, playing all sorts of
Meanwhile, Yollande was eating her heart out. She rushed to and
fro, keeping her eyes glued on the disobedient ones. Suddenly she
saw a mother-duck chasing her darlings. This was more than she
could bear,--driven by her maternal instinct she leapt like a fury
to the aid of her family.
A flap or two of her wings and she was above the water into which
she fell at the deepest part.
Splashing,--struggling madly in the midst of her frightened
brood,--she was soon exhausted and succumbing to syncope, she sank
to the bottom.
The surface of the water closed above her. The little ones did not
realize what had happened--very quickly recovering from their
momentary fright, they went on with their games--splashing the
water with their beaks and amusing themselves as though nothing
were the matter.
Mother Etienne, busy giving green apples to the pigs, bran to the
rabbits, and corn to the pigeons, came back presently, and could
not see the big Yollande beside the pond, only her children
floating far, far away on the water. Surprised she drew nearer,
called, but in vain. The mother-hen had disappeared. Then only did
she understand the tragedy that had occurred. She called for help.
Petit-Jacques immediately opened the big sluice and the water ran
out, but much too slowly for their impatience. At last they began
to see the bottom, and soon the body of poor Yollande was
discovered stiff and motionless.
There was general consternation at the farm. Petit-Jacques, by
means of a long pole, seized her and drew her to land at Mother
Etienne's feet. Labrie came up and sniffed sadly at the body of
the unhappy hen. In vain they dried her and rubbed her,--nothing
did any good.
"She's quite dead, alas," said Mother Etienne with tears in her
eyes, "but it was my own fault. I ought to have closed down the
lattice and this misfortune would not have happened. It really is
a great pity--such a fine hen. She weighs at least eight pounds.
There, Germaine, take her and weigh her."
Germaine was the maid and also the cousin of Petit-Jacques--of
whom she was very fond. She was a fine buxom girl of eighteen,
strong and well-grown. She loved animals, too, but her feeling for
them could not be compared to Mother Etienne's.
"Germaine, take away poor Yollande, I am quite upset
by this trouble. You will bury her this evening, in a corner of
the kitchen-garden--deep enough to prevent any animal digging her
up. I leave it to you--do it carefully."
The girl bore away the fine hen in her apron. "How heavy she
is--it is a shame," and blowing apart the feathers, she saw the skin
underneath as yellow and plump as you could wish. Mechanically she
plucked a few feathers.
"After all," she said, "it isn't as though she had died--she was
drowned, quite a clean death; she's firm and healthy, only an hour
ago she was as strong and well as could be. Why shouldn't we eat
her?--We'll stew her because, though she is not old, she is not
exactly in her first youth--but there's a lot on her--with a
dressing of carrots and nutmeg, a bunch of herbs and a tomato,
with a calf's foot to make a good jelly, I believe she'd make a
Saying this she went on plucking Yollande. All the feathers, large
and small, gone, a little down was left, so to get rid of this she
lit an old newspaper and held her over it.
"Madame won't know anything and will enjoy her as much as we
shall. There's enough on her for two good meals."
Quite decided, instead of burying her, she wrapped the future stew
carefully in a perfectly clean cloth and put it on a shelf in the
kitchen out of the way of flies or accident.
During this time Mother Etienne was busy making as warm a home as
she could for the fifteen little orphans. Poor darlings. In a
wicker-basket she covered a layer of straw with another of wadding
and fine down. Upon this she put the ducklings one by one, and
covered the whole with feathers; then closing the lid, she carried
the basket to the stable where the air was always nice and warm.
All this took time; it was about six o'clock in the evening, the
sun was going down, throwing a last oblique smile into the
kitchen, gleaming here and there on the shining copper which hung
on the walls.
As for Germaine, she, with Petit-Jacques to help her, had gone to
milk the cows. Mother Etienne soon joined them, and the two women
came back to the house together.
Horror of horrors! What a terrible sight. Pale with fear they
stood on the threshold of the kitchen not daring to move--to
enter. Their hearts were in their mouths. A ghost stood there in
front of them--Yollande--and Germaine fell at Mother Etienne's
feet in utter consternation. Yollande? Yes, Yollande, but what a
Yollande! Heavens! Yollande plucked, literally plucked! Yollande
emerging from her shroud like Lazarus from his tomb! Yollande
risen from the dead! A cry of anguish burst from the heart of kind
"Yollande, oh, Yollande!"
The Cochin-China replied by a long shudder.
This is what had happened.
On falling into the water, Yollande after struggling fiercely
succumbed to syncope, and her lungs ceasing to act she had ceased
to breathe, so the water had not entered her lungs. That is why
she was not drowned. Life was, so to speak, suspended. The syncope
lasted some time. The considerable heat to which she was subjected
when Germaine held her above the flaming newspaper had brought
about a healthy reaction and in the solitude of the kitchen she
had recovered consciousness.
After the first moment of terror was over, Germaine confessed her
plan to Mother Etienne, who, glad to find Yollande still alive,
forgave Germaine the disobedience which had saved her.
But the hen was still shivering, shaking in every limb, her skin
all goose-flesh. Dragging after her her travesty of a tail, she
jumped onto the kitchen-table which she shook with her shivering.
"We can't leave her like that any longer," said Mother Etienne,
"we must cover her up somehow," and straightway she wrapped her up
in all the cloths she could lay her hands on. Germaine prepared
some hot wine with sugar in it, and the two women fed her with it
in spoonfuls,--then they took a good drink of it themselves. All
three at once felt the better for it. Yollande spent the night in
these hastily-made swaddling clothes between two foot-warmers
which threw out a gentle and continuous heat and kept away the
catarrh with which the poor Cochin-China was threatened. The great
question which arose now was how they were to protect her from the
cold in future. Both of them cogitated over it.
Several times during the night, Mother Etienne and the maid came
to look at the hen, who, worn out by such a long day of fatigue
and suffering, at last closed her eyes, relaxed, and slept till
Nevertheless she was the first in the house to wake up, and at
dawn began to cackle vigorously. Germaine hastened to her,
bringing a quantity of corn which the hen, doubtless owing to her
fast of the day before, ate greedily.
Now the important thing was to find her a practical costume. The
weather was mild but there was great danger in allowing her to
wander about in a garb as light as it was primitive. The mornings
and evenings were cool and might bring on a cold, inflammation or
congestion of the lungs, rheumatism, or what not.
At all costs a new misfortune must be avoided. At last they
dressed her in silk cunningly fashioned and lined with wadding.
Thus garbed her entry into the poultry-yard was a subject of
astonishment to some, fear to others, and excitement to most of
the birds she met on her way.
In vain Mother Etienne strove to tone down the colours of the
stuffs, to modify the cut of the garments, but Yollande long
remained an object of surprise and antipathy to the majority of
The scandal soon reached its climax.
"That hen must be mad," said an old duck to his wife.
"Just imagine dressing up like that; she'll come along one of
these days in a bathing suit," cried a young rooster who prided
himself on his wit.
A young turkey tugged at her clothes, trying to pull them off, and
all the others looked on laughing and hurling insults.... They
vied with one another in sarcastic speeches. At last, after a
time, as the saying goes, "Familiarity bred contempt." The fear
which her companions had felt at first soon changed into a
familiarity often too great for the unhappy Cochin-China. They
tried to see who could play her the shabbiest trick. Hens are
often as cruel as men, which is saying a great deal.
Poor Yollande, in spite of her size, her solidity, and strength,
nearly always emerged half-dressed. Her companions could not stand
her dressed like that, the sight of her irritated them. Not
content with tearing her clothes they often pecked at the poor
creature as well.
Mother Etienne did her best to improve these costumes in every
way--but it was as impossible to find perfection as the
They hoped at the farm that in time the feathers would grow again.
Meanwhile it was hard on the hen.
Nothing of the sort happened; one, two, three months passed and
not the least vestige of down appeared on the hen, who had to be
protected like a human being from the changes of climate and so
forth. Like a well-to-do farmer's wife Yollande had her
linen-chest and a complete outfit.
It was, I assure you, my dear children, kept up most carefully.
There was always a button to sew on, a buttonhole to remake, or a
tear to be mended. Thus constantly in touch with the household
Madame Hen soon thought she belonged to it. Indeed, worn out by
the teasing of her companions, by the constant arguments she had
with them, and touched on the other hand by the affectionate care
of her mistresses, Yollande stayed more and more in the house.
Coddled and swathed in her fantastic costumes, she sat in the
chimney corner like a little Cinderella changed into a hen; from
this corner she quietly watched; nothing escaped her notice.
Meanwhile her reputation had grown, not only amongst her comrades,
but amongst all the animals of the neighbourhood, who, hearing her
discussed, were anxious to see her.
Woe to the cat or dog who dared venture too far into the room!
Very annoyed at this impertinent curiosity, she would leap upon
the importunate stranger and punish him terribly with her sharp
beak. Of course he would run off howling and frightened to death.
It was very funny to watch.
Mother Etienne and Germaine were much amused at these little
comedies, and whenever visitors came to the farm they would try to
provoke one. Everyone enjoyed them hugely.
Germaine treated Yollande like a doll. She made her all sorts of
fashionable clothes. The Cochin-China would be dressed sometimes
like a man, sometimes like a woman. She had made her quite a
collection of little trousers and vests, which had style, I can
tell you. She had copied, too, from a circus she had seen, an
English clown's costume which was most becoming. Nothing could be
funnier than to watch this tiny dwarf, to see her strut, jump,
dance, coming and going, skipping around suddenly,--one moment
skittish, the next very important.
Petit-Jacques loved to tease her, but not roughly; he would push
her with his foot, and make her jump at him impatiently, looking
perfectly ridiculous in her quaint dress. You could have sworn she
was a miniature clown. Add to all this, the queer inarticulate
sounds she made when she was angry, and even then you can have no
idea how very amusing these pantomimes were.
Soon the fame of Yollande spread far and wide. She became
celebrated throughout the district. Instead of asking Mother
Etienne how _she_ was, people asked:
"How's your hen today, Mother Etienne?"
FATHER GUSSON'S SECRET
One day a peddler, such as often come round to villages, laden
like a mule, and leading by the bridle an ass still more laden,
appeared at the farm. Both looked well but tired and dusty--they
seemed to have had a long journey.
Father Gusson, such was the good man's name, sold all sorts of
things, from tooth-brushes to shoes,--including hardware,
glassware, notions, drugs, and even patent medicines.
Mother Etienne received him kindly and after letting him show her
the things in which she was interested, she offered him
refreshment and suggested that he should take a little rest at the
farm. This he accepted without needing any pressing.
The donkey, relieved straightway from his load, was led into the
paddock, where he wallowed in the tall grass, rolling on his back,
his feet in the air. He enjoyed cleaning himself up like this
after his dusty journey, then, rested--he took his luncheon,
choosing here and there the daintiest morsels; after which he lay
down and philosophised at length.
All this time, Mother Etienne and Germaine were buying, tempted by
one thing after another, silks, laces, stuffs for dresses, and a
number of toilet articles, for both were, though you would not
have suspected it, rather coquettish. Father Gusson--delighted
with his visit to the farm and the business he had done there--was
anxious to leave Mother Etienne a little remembrance.
[Illustration: Father Gusson the peddler comes to the farm.]
"Madame," he said, holding out a small china jar carefully sealed
with parchment, "assuredly you do not need this just now, but if I
should never come back, and if it should happen that one day your
beautiful hair should grow thin, turn grey, or fall out, you have
only to rub your head with this sweet-scented ointment and at once
your hair will grow again thick and of its original colour. I
cannot, alas! give you the recipe, it is a secret left me by my
Then Father Gusson bade farewell to the two women and went on his
way with "Neddy," both much refreshed by their pleasant rest.
Mother Etienne handed Germaine the precious pot of ointment to put
with their other purchases into the big cupboard, and they thought
no more about it.
One day as she sat by the fire with Yollande, watching the dinner,
a bright and whimsical idea occurred to the maid. "Supposing I
were to try the ointment on the hen? But--it might be good for
feathers too--anyhow, it could not do any harm."
Saying this she went, found the ointment, and delicately rubbed a
little onto Yollande's head. Yollande did not appear to mind at
all. Germaine did this three days running.
Two weeks later Mother Etienne while dressing her hen, as she did
each day, found a thick reddish down sprouting round her head like
a little flat wig. She showed it to Germaine, who paid no
attention, having quite forgotten her childish trick.
But during the next few days the wig prospered; the hair was two
finger-breadths long, very thick and curly. Mother Etienne could
not understand it at all. Germaine could not, at first, make up
her mind to confess to her mistress what she had done.
At last one evening, Mother Etienne being in a particularly good
humour, the young girl took courage and told her all about it. Far
from scolding her, her mistress was delighted, and so pleased at
the news that she there and then undressed Yollande and rubbed her
from head to foot with Father Gusson's marvellous ointment. She
did the thing thoroughly--rubbing it into every pore. Then they
made a good fire so that the poor little model, thus exposed,
should not take cold.
After that they watched her every instant; they were for ever
undressing her to see if the cure was working--they could hardly
bear to wait. Just think--if it were to succeed. It would be the
end and aim of all their care. Yollande could once again take her
proper place in the world.
At last what had happened to the head, happened to the body too.
Before a week had gone by a thick down completely covered the big
hen. The good women, much wondering, imagined that as it grew
stronger the hair would change into feathers. Anxiously they
awaited the change. Nothing of the sort happened. The hair
remained hair--red, Titian red--fine and soft, curling round your
fingers, admirable in quality and colour.
The hair on the head, older than that on the rest of the body, was
much longer, which suggested to the mischievous Germaine the idea
of making her an elaborate headdress.
Nothing like it had ever been seen before.
Soon Yollande was able to discard some of her clothes. Her breast
and back required for a time yet a little covering, but this grew
gradually less and less.
Naturally the phenomenon was much discussed in the neighbourhood,
and it attracted many and delightful visitors to the farm, all of
whom Mother Etienne welcomed cordially. Yollande was less pleased
with this desire to inspect her. Generally some unbeliever would
tug at her hair, a painful experience for her. So, except towards
her mistress and Germaine, she had become exceedingly vindictive
and watchful. Every time she had the chance she pecked with her
short, stout beak at the person indiscreet enough to take such
liberties. One little visitor, more daring than the rest, nearly
lost his finger over it.
The fame of the curly-haired hen was tremendous, it spread even
beyond the limits of the district. It was really worth a journey
to see her. They wrote of it in the newspapers. The "Daily
Mirror," I think it was, had a fine long article about her.
But in certain quarters, the whole thing was looked upon as a
SIR BOOUM CALLS UPON MOTHER ETIENNE
Just about this time placards were posted about the whole village,
announcing the arrival of a Great American Circus, bringing in its
train the most wonderful spectacles. Menageries,--curiosities of
all kinds, such as had not been seen since the time of the
Incredible things were on show. Nobody, however small their purse,
could resist the pleasure of witnessing these sights. Nobody, that
is, except the people in and around this village.
The menagerie prepared for its performance by splendid
processions. Caparisoned in gold the elephants marched around.
There were horses of all colours and of all sizes, dromedaries,
rhinoceroses, black men and white monkeys, bands of musicians,
The inhabitants saw the gorgeous procession pass with
indifference, with a superior kind of air and without the least
On the evening of the first performance, in spite of the placards,
processions, bands, notices, and illuminations, nobody appeared at
the ticket-office of the theatre and they played to an empty
"What," cried the impresario, tearing his hair. "Crowds flocked to
me in London, Paris, St. Petersburg, and New York. I have been
congratulated by the Shah of Persia, invited to lunch by the Grand
Turk, and this little hole despises me, mocks at me, considers me
The lights out, Sir Booum spent a terrible night, wondering what
evil genius could thus attack his laurels. At dawn, worn out by
his sleepless night, he set out, eager to learn the cause of his
All those whom he met winked knowingly, laughing in their sleeves,
and courtesied to him without giving him any information. At last
one, touched by his despair, answered:
"Why should we come to you? We have here in this very place, where
we can see it for nothing, a marvel beside which yours are
commonplace. Have you in your menagerie a curly-haired hen?"
"A curly-haired hen!" cried Sir Booum. "Gracious, goodness me!
What are you talking about? Three times have I been round the
world and have never heard of such a thing."
"Go to the big farm down yonder and you can see the one I am
telling you about. You will be ashamed to think how uninteresting
in comparison are the things you show."
A few minutes later, a magnificent equipage, driven by an elegant
gentleman and drawn by two light bays, entered the courtyard of
the big farm.
"Does Madame Etienne live here, please?" he asked Petit-Jacques,
who was busy grooming Coco.
"Will you kindly give her this card and ask if she will see me?"
"Certainly, sir, at once."
Petit-Jacques returned a few minutes later with Mother Etienne.
The gentleman got down from his seat, handing the reins to his
"Excuse me, Madame. I am Sir Booum. It was my circus which gave
its first performance here yesterday as announced on the placards
posted on the walls throughout the village.
I have heard, Madame, that you have a most extraordinary hen, and
I have come to beg you to show it to me. If it is really such as
it was described to me, I will buy it at once."
"Sir," said Mother Etienne, "I am very pleased to meet you; I will
show you Yollande as you ask, but sell her to you?--never. I love
the dear thing far too well to part with her."
"But, Madame, if I give you a large sum? How much do you ask? Name
Mother Etienne, without answering a word, went off to fetch the
Cochin-China hen to show to her visitor.
American as he was, he was astounded and was soon convinced that
there had been no exaggeration. This was indeed the curly-haired
"Well, Madame, how much is it to be?--$1,000, $2,000, $4,000?
Can't you make up your mind?"
"No, sir, please don't insist. I do not want to part with dear
Yollande," and Mother Etienne, distressed and trembling, covered
her hen with caresses.
In vain the American urged. His eyes shone with the desire to
include this marvel in his collection. He could do nothing, and
was finally obliged to retreat.
"Night brings counsel, Madame. I will return tomorrow to visit
you, and I hope you will then decide in my favour. Until tomorrow,
The gentleman bowed politely and got into his carriage. The
equipage left the courtyard, turned onto the high road, and was
lost in the distance in a cloud of golden dust.
Mother Etienne was much distressed. The unexpected appearance of
this personage, the offer of this huge sum of money, were enough
to excite a woman more worldly-wise than she. Germaine strove to
persuade her mistress to accept the offer.
"But, my dear mistress, think of it--$4,000. It is a fortune.
Don't let it escape you. It is a chance which will never come
again. Think how well Yollande will be cared for. He does not mean
to eat her at that price. Think of a stew costing $4,000. No
indeed, the gentleman will try to keep her well as long as
possible. It will be to his interest not to hurt her. Be sure of
it, she will be as well cared for as she is here, if not better."
Thus they talked all evening.
Mother Etienne, feverishly affectionate, looked at the hen lying
as usual asleep in the chimney corner. She could not make up her
mind to sell her sweet Cinderella. Her affection for Yollande had
increased with the constant care she had needed during so many
long months. Besides, the silky tresses curling like corkscrews,
which Germaine had kept so smooth, had been a source of amusement,
not only to the farm but to the whole neighbourhood.
That night Mother Etienne was much agitated in spite of the hot
drink Germaine had given her. She was haunted by a horrible
nightmare. She seemed to be lying on a bed of banknotes, whilst
the Cochin-China, sitting heavily on her chest, reproached her
bitterly for having handed her over to a stranger in exchange for
a little filthy lucre. Mother Etienne, bathed in perspiration,
seemed to suffocate under her sheets.
At last dawn came, the good woman rose, her heart still terribly
oppressed. Germaine calmed her as best she could with reassuring
words and also with a foaming bowl of hot coffee.
All morning Mother Etienne endured torments.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon when suddenly the sound of a
heavy carriage drawn by four horses was heard in the courtyard.
Labric barked with all his might, Coco whinnied loudly, the three
cows all mooed at the same time, and the entire poultry-yard in an
uproar added its piercing and varied tones to the general tumult.
The pigs especially made a great noise.
It was the American's four-in-hand.
He was driving himself, and on his left sat a young and pretty
woman, exquisitely dressed in white.
The newcomers were at once shown into the huge kitchen, which
served also as a reception room. On the hearth burned a small
bundle of scented herbs which filled the whole room with
fragrance. Yollande was sitting in her usual place.
"Well, Madame, have you at last decided to let me have the
Mother Etienne neither moved nor answered.
"See here, Madame, I offer you $4,000, $6,000, $8,000," and so
saying he took from a red morocco pocketbook in banknotes the sums
he mentioned, and spread them out on the table before the
astonished eyes of Mother Etienne and Germaine.
Mother Etienne still shook her head in refusal.
Germaine, driven wild by this sight, began to exclaim: "Yes,
sir,--yes, Madame. Yes, sir,--yes, Madame," and threw herself into
the arms first of the American, and then of Mother Etienne, who
still remained obdurate.
Miss Booum, taking Mother Etienne's hand, said coaxingly: "You can
safely trust her to me. I will take care of her myself, Madame.
With us she will become famous throughout the world. All the
newspapers will speak of her. From your poultry-yard she will come
into contact with the greatest courts of the world. She will be
petted by Grand Duchesses, and receive hands. Besides all this she
will be in good company and will have plenty to amuse her."
This pleading succeeded in dragging from Mother Etienne the
longed-for "Yes," which, though stifled by emotion, was seized
upon by the American.
The good woman had said "Yes," she had conquered the selfishness
of a mother for two reasons. She did not want to prevent Yollande
from getting on in the world, and also she wished to let Germaine
share this fortune, for it was owing to her that the hen had
become so valuable, and she did not think it right to deprive her
of the benefit.
[Illustration: Miss Booum brings Mother Etienne to the circus
"That's all settled, then. Here's the contract," said the
American, "you have only to sign it." And a receipt duly prepared
was handed to Mother Etienne, who in a trembling hand appended her
signature and a flourish. I don't know that she did not even
embellish it with a huge blot of ink.
Then Miss Booum stooped and gently took under her arm Yollande,
who oddly enough made no resistance.
"Oh please, please let me kiss her again," and, tears in her eyes,
Mother Etienne tenderly embraced the Cochin-China.
"You will take great care of Yollande, won't you? You will send me
news of her? Where is she to sleep to-night?"
"Oh, as to that, Madame, would you like to see the place prepared
for her? Come with us. There is room in the carriage and I promise
to have you brought back again at once. The camp is not far from
here, the road is good, the horses fast, and in half an hour at
most you will be perfectly reassured and can return with your mind
Mother Etienne, without further thought, still guided by her
tender maternal heart, needed no urging, but followed by the two
Americans, walked with a brisk, firm step towards the carriage.
Suddenly changing her mind, she said:
"Will you just let me change my dress? I can't very well go out
She went to her room, an idea having entered her head, and soon
returned very neatly dressed with a little basket in her hand.
The steps were adjusted and the three people took their places on
top, whilst Yollande, wrapped in soft woollen covers, was
carefully placed inside, in a basket provided for that very
When Germaine saw her mistress start off she would have liked to
go with her, but the farm needed her attention. Besides, Miss
Booum's promise of seats for the next performance quite consoled
The carriage made a curve in the yard, went through the gate, and
soon disappeared, bearing the two new travellers. As Miss Booum
had said, it did not take more than half an hour to reach the
camp, the cobs went so quickly.
On the way Mother Etienne met many acquaintances to whom she waved
a simple but cordial greeting. In most cases the carriage was
already out of sight before they recovered sufficiently from their
astonishment to wave back.
It was a nine days' wonder.
SIR BOOUM'S CIRCUS
Our travellers came in sight of the circus. Imagine, children, a
huge encampment like a small town,--with sections, and streets,
houses of green canvas on stout poles, tall caravans on wheels
enclosing everything as though with impassable walls, and in the
centre all sorts of people, in all sorts of costumes, walking up
There were brown men, yellow men, red men, black men, big men,
little men, thin men, fat men, lame men, deformed men, men with
goitres, men covered with feathers, men covered with fur,--in
fact, men of every possible kind, size, and land,--men to suit
every possible taste.
All the most curious specimens were represented. Besides these
there was a colossal menagerie. In it there were more than twenty
elephants, giraffes, hippopotami, rhinoceroses, zebras,
dromedaries, camels, and the rarest kinds of antelopes. Then came
the reptiles,--from the boa constrictor, who was ten yards long,
to the smallest blind-worm, amongst them some of the most
dangerous kinds. Crocodiles twenty feet long, monstrous toads,
tortoises as big as donkeys. Then there were the wild beasts too.
Lions from Abyssinia, from Atlas, tigers from Bengal, from Persia,
jaguars, panthers, leopards, all the big cat family, lynx, onca,
tiger cat. Bears of all kinds, grizzly, grey, black, and white.
Then came wolves, foxes, coyotes, in fact the whole series of the
dog tribe with every possible domestic variety.
In little barred cages was a collection of smaller carnivorous
animals and rodents. In a huge room all the monkeys from the big
gorilla to the minute ouistiti or witsit, were installed; they
squabbled, pulled one another's tails, bit one another, uttered
piercing cries. There were constant battles going on in that
Then in an immense aviary were all the birds of creation, divided
into classes, from the humming-bird, the size of a hornet, to the
ostrich. This was, to tell the truth, the part that interested
Mother Etienne most of all. She was more used to creatures of this
kind, they reminded her of her beloved poultry-yard. In spite of
the signs put up everywhere, "Do not feed the animals," the good
woman who had purposely filled her basket with cakes threw them in
indiscriminately. There were enough for all the animals she
passed. First she threw some to the lions. The lions took no
notice, at which she was most surprised. Her idea in offering the
cakes was to see if the animals were hungry and to find out that
way how they were treated.
Miss Booum, who was acting as her guide, was much amused at her
astonishment and could not resist saying:
"Madame, to offer a cream bun to a tiger is like offering a
beef-steak to an elephant. Just keep your cakes for the ostriches,
they are so greedy that they will eat stones. If they were to keep
a hardware store they would be certain to eat up their stock."
Pleased at this permission, when she came to the ostriches, Mother
Etienne offered them a cake, but they looked down at it very
haughtily and suspiciously. From this she concluded that even
those birds were so well-fed that they were not hungry and felt
quite satisfied about Yollande.
After half an hour's walk through the circus, having visited every
corner of it, they went towards the manager's house. There five
o'clock tea was served. Mother Etienne, quite at ease, did honour
to the lunch so graciously provided, and after thanking Miss Booum
gratefully, she kissed Yollande very tenderly and prepared to
return to the farm.
At a sign from the young American girl, a stout piebald pony,
harnessed to a trap, was led forward by a groom.
"That is my own carriage and my horse Charlie, which you can drive
yourself, Madame, if you like. He is quick and safe, you may be
sure of that. You will be at home again in less time than it took
to come here with four horses. Farewell, dear Madame, a pleasant
drive. Remember that we expect you tomorrow for the afternoon
performance, and that nice little maid of yours too. Your seats
will be reserved."
The two women shook hands cordially, Mother Etienne got into the
carriage, and took the reins. The pony feeling a hand used to
driving, set off at a quick trot, then warming to his work flew
over the ground. He had the paces of a big horse and had to be
kept well in hand.
Mother Etienne soon reached home delighted with her adventure. She
was assailed by questions from Germaine and Petit-Jacques. They
sat there drinking in her words. Mother Etienne told them as best
she could all that had happened and all that she had seen in the
most secret wings of the gigantic circus. Germaine in her
excitement was forgetful enough to let the soup boil over and the
roast burn, but all the same they dined gaily. There were still
plenty of questions to be asked. Mother Etienne had to go over
every detail and even to tell some stories over again. They went
on talking far into the night--so charmed were the listeners at
Nobody thought of going to bed. Germaine was longing for the
morrow, she was so anxious to see for herself this fairyland.
At last, midnight striking, reminded Mother Etienne that it was
time for sleep. Then they all went to bed, each head full of the
wonders of tomorrow's performance.
MOTHER ETIENNE'S DREAM
Mother Etienne was very restless again that night, haunted, not by
a dreadful nightmare as before, but by a troublesome dream.
Everything she had just seen at Sir Booum's appeared before her,
the tiniest incidents, the least important details.
All the explanations, concerning the creatures in the menagerie
given her by the trainer, came back to her, like an object lesson
in a curious dream.
The principal person in it was Yollande. Yollande as Barnum,
Yollande as trainer, Yollande holding in one hairy wing a stout
whip, in the other the pitchfork as a protection against claws and
"You see here," said Yollande in a loud voice, "you see here the
wild ox from Madagascar, which takes the place of the horse. In
that country he is harnessed to small, light vehicles which he
draws along rapidly. This other is a buffalo from Caffraria. He is
a Jack-of-all-trades, sometimes ridden, sometimes driven,
sometimes laden, sometimes yoked to the plough. Those big striped
animals you see yonder are giraffes. Their long necks permit them,
without having recourse to a ladder, to eat the young shoots of
the mimosa, of which they are very fond, as well as the fresh
dates which usually grow at the tops of the palm-trees."
In this kind of dream a strange idea was at work in the brain of
the sleeper. With these object lessons were mingled strange,
"If children had long necks like that, one couldn't keep the
jam-pots out of their way by putting them on the top shelves of
"There," went on Yollande, "are the elephants. They are used for
all sorts of tasks. Their trunks, a continuation of their
nostrils, serve both for breathing and holding. It is, as it were,
an extremely sensitive and powerful hand."
"Great goodness me," cried Mother Etienne; "imagine having a hand
at the end of your nose! Would it have a glove on it and rings on
All sorts of ridiculous ideas like that came into her head. The
little beaver, who builds his houses all along the Canadian
streams, appeared trowel in hand, mortar-board on his head, and
Mother Etienne felt most anxious to have his valuable assistance
in repairing her barns and mills. Dear little marabout, how useful
you would be in the village, sweeping the streets, cleaning up the
refuse, advance-guard of the street-cleaner with his, "Now then,
everything into the gutter."
"The antelopes are very silly, coquettish creatures to wear such
long boas round their necks in this warm country. But, after all,
perhaps they are wise enough, for they have chosen a kind which,
unlike our make of furs, is cold to the touch."
Yollande, in her role of trainer, went on and on like a brook.
"Here, now, is a dromedary. He has a hump on his back, a fatty
exerescence which enables him to bear much fatigue, without eating
or drinking for several days. It is owing to this fat, rather like
a box of provisions on his back, that he can traverse hot and
sandy deserts where it would be difficult to find a single blade
of grass to eat."
Then through the farm bedroom passed long caravans of camels, led
by carnival Arabs, their humps changed into gigantic larders in
which rattled all sorts of canned things. Canned salmon, Russian
caviare, dried biscuits, smoked meats, tongues, sardines, canned
peas, foies-gras, lobsters, and fruits, in fact all those things
which Mother Etienne had seen piled up in many-coloured pyramids
at the best grocery stores. Really it was too ridiculous.--Miss
Booum must have been making fun of her visitor.--That couldn't
really be the best food for camels.
It was still worse when it came to the turn of the hippopotami. A
thousand ill-digested memories from the illustrated papers were in
her mind, all mixed up. Where did the Nile and the Zanzibar flow?
Which was it that separated Egypt from Senegal? And the gigantic
hippopotamus, looking perfectly huge and out-of-place in a gondola
fit for a sultana, appeared to her, floating down the calm stream,
a red fez with a golden star on his head, puffing away at a
peculiar double-bowled pipe, the pride of the collection of a
retired police-officer in the village, who had it from the real
cousin of a sea-captain from Marseilles.
"Do you see those little lumps there enclosed between four boards?
It is a nest of land-tortoises. The largest, called the Giant
tortoise, easily supports on its back a weight of two hundred
pounds. This shell which weighs so heavily is its house. At the
least alarm, it retreats into its house and stays there, till all
danger is past." This plan of walking about with your house on
your back seemed rather a good one to Mother Etienne. You could go
out on rainy days without getting wet, and on cold days it would
keep your back nice and warm.
"Near at hand is a collection of mammals, the kangaroo family. The
kangaroo is the largest mammal of Australia. It is generally a
peace-loving animal, but bites, scratches, and claws if it is
teased. Its best defence however is flight." All these technical
details left the good woman cold. What she remembered best were
the practical qualities of the creatures. The kangaroo has one
very great peculiarity, the female has a pouch, a sort of bag, in
which she hides her young if danger appears, just as the soldier
has his knapsack.
For the first time in her life Mother Etienne was much struck
By certain resemblances between animals and human beings,
finding in them actions, looks, and habits which reminded her
irresistibly of many of her acquaintances. It was amongst the
monkeys that it was the most marked. Two chimpanzees, with pensive
faces garbed in black, seemed to be mourning some beloved
relative. It was as though their sad but shining eyes, gazing at
the straw which half-covered them, were seeking something hidden,
A family of big African monkeys, by their challenging, crafty air,
reminded her unpleasantly of a band of good-for-nothings who for
months had spread terror and desolation throughout the country.
The chief--or the one who appeared to be the chief--the biggest
and strongest, hurled himself at the bars and shook them in his
clenched hands. He would certainly have enjoyed strangling Mother
Etienne, had he been able to do so. Since he was not able to, he
displayed in a huge yawn, a terrifying set of teeth, worthy of a
wild beast. They were horrid animals, I assure you, not the kind
you would like to meet loose on a lonely road.
Fortunately some pretty little witsits, with black faces, no
bigger than your fist, and white and grey ruffles, whistling like
blackbirds, by their pretty tricks did away with the bad
impression made by these sinister neighbours.
[Illustration: Cake Walk; Mother Etienne's dream.]
This one was a regular little mother, that one had just been
sweeping out the yard, another was the living image of the Count's
servant when he followed his master on his walks, carrying under
his arm a shawl or a sunshade. An orang-outang, an elderly
peasant, whose four big hands were clasped, suggested to her how
useful it would be to have a helper like that to milk the cows. It
would go twice as fast with four hands. What a lot of precious
time it would save.
And many other queer things came into her head. That yowling dog,
that sharp-faced rabbit, are the type who come on fair-days to cry
their papers, sell their toys, etc.--a noisy, rough crew. Goodness
gracious! Where was Mother Etienne's absurd dream leading her?
She, whose life was always so calm, and who, to tell the truth,
with Germaine, were rather like the two little monkeys at the
corner of the fire-place, hands clasped under their aprons, feet
on foot-warmers, and little pointed handkerchiefs on their heads.
At this personal picture everything turned as though by
enchantment into one huge, vast medley, which ended in a general
cake-walk of the whole menagerie, passing before the tired eyes of
Mother Etienne, roaring, bellowing, mewing, whistling, howling,
whinnying, and braying. Poor Mother Etienne was thoroughly
MOTHER ETIENNE'S FORTUNE
When she woke up the good woman thought of her small fortune. She
gave it for safe keeping into the hands of her lawyer, M. La
Plume, while she was making up her mind how she should dispose of
it. She wanted plenty of time to think it over. She had already
decided to give Germaine a dowry, for the whole thing was largely
owing to her. She knew that she and Petit-Jacques were in love.
"They will make a fine couple," she thought, "and later on how
pleased I shall be to have a nice family around me--with dear
children who will love and care for me."
Then she thought of Pere Gusson--the good old man could have no
idea of all that had happened at the farm. He was going his
rounds, selling his wares as best he could. It was three months
since he had appeared, he would be back again before long--he had
already been away longer than usual.
And, sure enough, two days later Neddy announced his entrance into
the courtyard with a loud bray. If his master was glad to see
Mother Etienne who always received him so cordially, and who
bought so much from him, the donkey fully appreciated the hours of
rest and the good food he found in the paddock with the cows.
Mother Etienne went forward to meet the old man and gaily told him
the whole story.
He, utterly astounded, could not at first believe it. He made her
repeat the wonder over and over again. It certainly was a very
curious thing. He had always known his ointment was effective,
but--as to making hair grow on a hen--that was quite another
thing. He was just petrified by it.
Mother Etienne told Germaine to serve some good cider, and all
three drank to one another's healths.
"That is not all," said Mother Etienne, "I want you to have a
share in my good fortune. That's only fair. You have worked all
your life, you must think of taking a rest. You have certainly
earned it. Here is a check for $2,000 which my lawyer, M. La
Plume, will cash for you. This sum, together with what you have
saved, will be enough to buy a little house and garden and to keep
you from want. If one is wise and knows how to manage, one can
live here for very little."
Father Gusson, quite upset and touched, could not find words to
thank dear, kind Mother Etienne. It was as though he had
unexpectedly won the big prize in the lottery. He could hardly
believe his eyes and ears.
Soon he pulled himself together and began to calculate.
"I have a few savings, it is true, but I think it would be wise to
take advantage of the fame of the ointment and double my small
fortune. I hope that, thanks to the already widespread fame of
Yollande, if (with your kind permission) I were to call my
ointment, 'Ointment of the Curly-Haired Hen' I should have
"Not only am I quite willing, but I thoroughly approve of your
idea and strongly advise you to carry it out," replied Mother
No sooner said than done.
Father Gusson withdrew from the notary the sum, so fairly
But generously given him, and spent his time henceforth in
manufacturing (according to the recipe of his ancestors) the
wonderful ointment. He filled a great quantity of jars of all
sizes, and like the good business man he was, having adorned them
with magnificent labels he doubled the price of the ointment and
put on a trade mark so as to prohibit imitations. Then he bought a
cart like Mother Etienne's and harnessed Neddy to it. On the hood
of the cart was a huge picture of a Curly-Haired Hen, and under it
was the inscription, "Ointment of the Curly-Haired Hen." Now the
peddler could go his rounds, selling only this specialty, without
need of further advertisement. The effect was magic. Doors,
hitherto too often closed against him, opened wide at his coming
and there was not a soul who did not buy quite a lot of it.
In a month and without effort, Father Gusson took in ten times
more money than he had earned in all his long and hardworking life
TRIUMPH OF THE OINTMENT
The craze of the public for this new preparation was
extraordinary. A china factory, about to close its doors, made a
fortune out of manufacturing jars for it. Of course all the bald
people bought it. Everyone expected it to work miracles. The women
with tow-coloured rat-tails expected to grow luxuriant black
tresses and others with coarse scrubby black hair dreamed of
having fine soft golden braids.
A very rich land-owner, who did not care how much he spent, rubbed
with it the back of his mangy dog, and his horse's tail, which was
growing somewhat thin.
The mayor even, they tell me, put a thick layer of it onto his
wig, which was beginning to wear out. The district was steeped in
it, the air seemed to smell of musk.
Alas! everything has its bad side. The good side of this was for
the merchant alone, who, though he guaranteed his wares for human
beings, refused any further responsibility. The bad side was
for the hens and ducks. (I believe even the geese suffered
occasionally.) I can't tell you how many people, knowing all about
the effect it had had on Yollande and the resultant fortune, tried
to duplicate the famous Curly-Haired Hen, bought by Sir Booum.
In the poultry-yards around, the hens for several months had a
pretty bad time. They were nearly all plucked and rubbed with the
ointment. It was a craze, a rage with the farmers, and those hens
who could retain a vestige of their plumage esteemed themselves
It was a sad sight to see all the feathered creatures fly at the
sight of a human being. They knew by bitter experience what to
expect. Alas! with all these attempts with roosters, chickens,
ducks, and turkeys, none had the desired effect. They long
remained scented and devoid of plumage, that was all. We must take
it that no subject as good as Yollande presented itself. Nature
makes these queer incomprehensible distinctions, you know, which
we just can't understand. There was _one_ Curly-Haired Hen,
there was to be no other! For, since her metamorphosis, for a
reason unknown to this day, the Curly-Haired Hen absolutely
refused to lay eggs. This was, I must confess, a great
disappointment to Sir Booum. Like the good American he was, he
would have liked to continue the race.
He had perforce to content himself with portraits of her from the
pen of M. Vimar. One of these was sent, affectionately dedicated
by Yollande, to her good Mother Etienne, who regards it as her
greatest treasure, and keeps it, elegantly framed, above the
mantelpiece in her bedroom. Never a day passes but the good woman
looks at it with tender, motherly affection.
Father Gusson is now the owner of a pretty little house and
cultivates his own garden, in which is a corner reserved for
Neddy, for he too has earned his rest.
Germaine, to whom her mistress and adopted mother gave a good
dowry, has just married Petit-Jacques, quartermaster, lately
returned from his military service.
It is hard to tell which is the happiest. The wedding was
performed with much ceremony. The whole village was present, and
amongst the various healths drunk they did not omit that of the
Love animals, my children, be kind to them, care for them, you
will certainly have your reward.
Back to Full Books