The Word is Given

Surprise Visitor

My Dear Madeleine,

Well, it’s been a very busy summer so far. We all had our doubts about what kind of year it was going to be after the dismal turnout for the Cabin Fever Days. I cannot tell you how upset I was sitting in that booth watching my banana cream pies going soggy. I cried for three days afterwards.

But we had a nice Spring and except for the heat wave of late, things have gone very well. You would be proud of the size of my garden this year. Everything is doing wonderfully except for the carrots. I think it’s just been too hot for them. They are gnarly and bitter. But you should see my pole beans! I’ve never had such a crop. I’ve been having the little neighbor boy Charlie, come and pick the ones I can’t use and he is selling them door to door. He’s been saving up all summer for a bicycle. I’m just happy not to have beans go to waste.

But really Madeleine, that’s not what I wanted to write to you about. The most amazing thing happened a few weeks ago. Though I’m almost afraid to tell you about it, you’ll think I’m making it up. I promise you I’m not. And you have to swear you will not tell anyone, ever.

I was out in the garden late in the afternoon encouraging some morning glory vines to grow on the fence instead of into my corn, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and there, strutting down the road, was this little red hen. Well that in itself was not surprising, after all the Morrison’s keep chickens and I figured it was one of theirs out for a stroll. But as she got closer, I noticed she had a little bag, a sort of tote made out of burlap slung around her neck and tucked under her wing. She was looking back and forth on either side of the lane, craning her neck like she was looking for a chick or something. Then she spied me standing there with a vine in my hand. Her wings came up to her face, honestly just as if to say, ‘oh there she is!’ She came bobbing over and hopped up on the fence right in front of me. I have to admit it gave me quite a start. But what happened next turned my feet to stone and my knees to water.

She spoke to me.

Now Madeleine, don’t go getting your knickers in a knot and call Dr. Woodbine. I am perfectly sane.

She did have a funny kind of voice though. All her vowels were drawn out, but I understood every word and every so often she would say ‘Buk!’ Right in the middle of a sentence.

She said, “Oh thank goodness dear, you look like a friendly soul. Is this Bogwillow?”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. So I nodded.

“I’m so glad. I don’t think, Buk! I could walk another step today. I have a message for your fair village. Could you please tell all your friends and neighbors that a certain author is at this very moment penning Buk! another story about your quirky, Buk! I mean your interesting town? I especially want to make sure that a Mr. Thaddeus Gromwell gets this news.”

And here she lowered her voice and looked up and down the road, causing me to lean in closer in spite of myself. She then put one of her wings up to her beak and said, “I don’t want to be talking, Buk! out loud to just anyone you understand. That has caused me no end of trouble in the past. People are just not expecting hens to talk don’t you know.” She nodded like I knew just what she meant.

There I was, leaning over the fence post never having spoken a word. I finally cleared my throat and said,

“Umm, well I’d be happy to pass on your message, but who will I say told me?”

She cocked her head to one side, and I swear Madeleine she winked at me and said, “Tell them a Little Red Hen told you!”

Then we both broke out laughing. And my dear sister, you have just never lived until you have heard a talking hen laugh!

She then asked if she might spend the night in my tool shed, and of course I said yes. She said not to bother myself one bit about her, because she had brought her own food. And so she had, for she showed me inside her little bag and there was a nice pile of cracked corn and a cunning little cloth sack tied at the corners with string that had the word Wheat printed on it.

“You never know when you might have a chance to plant a nice stand of wheat.” She said to me, patting her little tote.
“Its always good to be prepared.”

By now it was dusk and she went off into the shed. She perched on the tool rack and said good night. When I got up in the morning she had already gone. To where, one can only guess.

Well, I spread the news around just as she asked. I made a point of telling Thaddeus myself. And I must say he walked off looking awfully smug about it too. Almost like he was expecting it.

I swear, I will never understand that man.

I hope you can come visit soon. In about another three weeks the peaches will be ripe. Do come then and we will make jam and pies. Now don’t tease me about the hen Madeleine, you I’ve never been one to tell tall tales.

With much love,
Your sister Essie