I SING the praise of Celinie, that good cow of M. Hippolyte Jolivet!
Would that I were a poet, that the merits of Celinie might receive their just due in language befitting the subject—in delicate sonnets, in superb strophes, in rolling blank verse, in majestic hexameters. Even so, I do not think I could achieve the powerful effect, the artistic simplicity of M. Hippolyte Jolivet’s own words:
“She was, Monsieur, a cow incomparable.”
There you have it.
M. Jolivet, in one brief sentence, said everything that could be said about his good cow. Epics and odes might pile on a few more adjectives, but M. Jolivet distilled the essence of all possible tributes in six words. The gleaming teardrop that he frankly wiped from his eye was a liquid period that raised the simple statement to the dignity of an epitaph.
For Celinie, that incomparable cow, is no more. She grazes in Elysian fields, munching the supernal grass and twitching her tail at celestial flies. It is with heavy heart that I chronicle the fact that Celinie did not achieve the ripe old age she deserved but passed away in the prime of life, victim of a strange malady that defied all the skill of M. Doucet, the intelligent veterinary surgeon. Again M. Jolivet sums it all up:
“She was a cow, Monsieur, of too great a goodness to remain with us.”
Precisely ! The good die young.
But if Celinie, that good cow of M. Jolivet, has departed from earthly pastures, her spirit still lives as an inspiration to all other cows. To this day, M. Jolivet has only to declare, “Ah, miserable one, you are not like the good Celinie!” to some obstreperous heifer, and the animal will become meek and ashamed, acutely conscious of its failure to achieve the perfection of the incomparable one.
CELINIE became a member of the Jolivet family— I use the expression advisedly—in this manner:
M. Hippolyte Jolivet was hoeing his potato patch one fine summer morning. That is to say, he was perched on a fence exhorting the efforts of Hippolyte Jolivet, fils, Alphonse Jolivet, age nine, Jerome Jolivet, age eight,' and Mademoiselles Celestine, Jeanne and Alphonsine as they attacked the wicked weeds that threatened to choke the good potatoes. In the house, Madame Jolivet was preparing dinner, while that pretty Mademoiselle Helene Jolivet was churning butter, and little Auguste Jolivet was rocking the cradle in a vain attempt to silence the roars of tiny Telesphore Jolivet.
It was a scene of pastoral peace; and as Hippolyte Jolivet, pere, sat on the fence and listened to the squalling of the infant, the clump-clump of the churn, the singing of his eldest daughter, the occasional maledictions of his good wife, and the steady rasp of the six hoes, his heart swelled within him.
The rattle of buggy wheels disturbed his blissful contemplation of this little kingdom, and he turned toward the road and saw Neighbor Onesime Beauchamp reining in a venerable steed that looked as though it depended wholly on the buggy shafts to hold it in an upright position.
“B’jour!" shouted M. Onesime Beauchamp.
‘‘B’jour!" replied M. Hippolyte Jolivet, removing the pipe from his mouth.
“We need rain,” ventured Onesime, looking up at the cloudless sky.
"Of a certainty,” agreed Hippolyte. Then, noticing that the potato brigade had suspended operations, he shouted, “Allons!” and with one accord they hoed furiously once more.
“Fleurette,” said M. Beauchamp morosely, “has calved.”
M. Jolivet brightened up. “So? You will remember, Neighbor Beauchamp—”
“I do not forget,” returned Onesime. “As soon as that little calf is of a strength sufficient to depart from her mamma, she is yours.”
M. Jolivet rubbed his palms briskly. He had been speculating on the imminence of Fleurette’s confinement.
M. Beauchamp, a thriftless man of unquenchable thirst, had come to his neighborsome time previously in a financial extremity. He sought the loan of a few dollars, and as he was already staggering under the burden of a mortgage most abominable he had been forced to discount the future to the extent of selling Fleurette’s expected calf. Out of sheer neighborliness (as he pointed out at the time) M. Jolivet had consented to advance a small sum on Fleurette’s expectations.
“A bargain!” groaned M. Beauchamp. “She is worth three times the money you paid. A finer calf I have not seen in years.”
“That is good,” beamed Hippolyte.
“Cheap! Too cheap! If you were to buy that calf today you would cheerfully offer me three times as much.”
“Perhaps,” said Hippolyte cautiously.
M. Onesime Beauchamp, always pressed for cash, considered the injustice of selling that calf for money already spent when he might easily receive more money at the village market later. He was moved to expostulate.
“M. Jolivet,” he said, “you are my neighbor.”
“Of a certainty.”
“We are friends, my good Hippolyte.”
“Indeed we are, my fine Onesime. It is as I told my wife when I bought from you the calf that had not yet arrived. ‘Do not worry,’ I told her. ‘Onesime is my friend. He would not cheat me.’”
“Hippolyte,” groaned Onesime, “I have had a bad year.”
“My heart bleeds for you, neighbor.”
“My mortgage is of a weight most crushing.”
“The heartless bank may turn my children out into the road.”
“My finest pig died last week.”
“My crop failed last year.”
“So did mine.”
“M. Jolivet,” sighed Onesime, “I love that little calf as I love my own wife.”
“Hmm!” said Hippolyte.
“It will break Fleurette’s heart if she is separated from her little one. If I could keep that calf and pay you back the money in a month or so—it is of Fleurette I am thinking. Such affection—”
“The nature of a cow,” declared Hippolyte sagely, “is like rubber. A blow, and—poof—it bounces back. Fleurette is a philosopher. She already knows it is the fate of a female cow to be separated from her offspring. When the little one is weaned, you may bring her to my barn, as you promised.”
So saying, he scrambled down from the fence with a cheerful “Au’voir, my good Onesime,” and departed rapidly across the potato patch.
‘‘Au’voir” muttered Onesime dolefully, and clucked to his horse.
M. Jolivet, retreating toward the house, mumbled: “You would try to back out of the bargain, would you?” M. Beauchamp, driving disconsolately homeward, hissed a number of Gallic expressions which, freely translated, meant that he regarded his neighbor as a skinflint and a pig.
He knew there was no wiggling out of the bargain. The calf was eventually dragged bawling to the Jolivet barn. And that was how Celinie became one of the family.
SHE was christened Celinie in honor of M. Jolivet’s maternal aunt, who was strangely unappreciative of the compliment.
I have not space at my command to dwell upon the adolescence of Celinie. I must not linger to tell you how quickly she became a favorite with the children because of her personality most winning and her intelligence most amazing. I must not tarry to relate how the children rode upon Celinie’s back; how, when it came time for them to go to school at the end of the summer holidays, she was inconsolable; how she would stand in the pasture, mournfully watching her little playmates scamper off down the lane, and all through the day she would stand sadly beneath a tree, refusing to eat the good grass. M. Jolivet declared that there were tears in her eyes. I have not time to tell you little anecdotes of her docility, her gentleness and her loving heart. It is of Celinie the adult, Celinie the cow incomparable, Celinie who saved the Jolivet household from ruin and disaster, that I now write.
I wish I could tell you how she broke into the turnip patch of Neighbor Hermidas Tessier, hotly pursued by that pretty Mademoiselle Helene Jolivet, and how she skilfully evaded capture until that young and handsome Napoleon Tessier came out to help. Ah, the clever Celinie! Perhaps she knew it was time young Napoleon opened his eyes to the fact that there was no prettier girl in the township than Helene: perhaps she knew that an incipient love affair may be given a decided fillip if a likely young couple chase a cow through a turnip patch on a spring evening for a little while.
Later, when Napoleon Tessier, red-faced and uncomfortable in a stiff collar and a pair of tight yellow shoes, came courting three nights a week, M. Jolivet gave due credit to Celinie for the romance. “That good cow!” he chuckled gleefully. “She knew what she was about.”
For Napoleon Tessier was a strapping young fellow, and all the girls set their caps for him. Was he not an only son and was not his father, old Hermidas, the wealthiest farmer in the county?
M. Jolivet dreamed dreams. He visioned the day of the wedding, and old Hermidas clapping him jovially on the back and saying, “How now, my good Hippolyte ! We are now of one family. That little debt—do not think of it any longer.”
That little debt, you see, weighed heavily on M. Jouvets mind.
In a year of bad crops, the year that saw his barn burned to the ground, M. Jolivet had called upon his neighbor, the wealthy Hermidas, and borrowed the amount of one note remained unpaid. M. Jolivet scraped up the interest and applied, in fear and trembling, for a renewal.
“Of a certainty, my good Hippolyte,” boomed Hermidas agreeably. “You have had hard luck. Do not worry. I am not a miser. You will pay me when you can. So long as the interest is paid, I can trust you.”
This was reprieve. M. Jolivet was joyful. His neighbor was a prince among men. The note was renewed from year to year, it was even reduced to seven hundred dollars, the interest was paid unfailingly.
But it is not comfortable to owe money, even to such a fine neighbor as M. Hermidas Tessier, who was known to have a very bad temper and might change his mind if he got up on the wrong side of the bed some fine morning. That note haunted M. Jolivet. What a catastrophe if Hermidas insisted upon full payment!
With the rapid progress of young Napoleon’s courtship, however, the catastrophe became remote. He came blurting and stammering to M. Jolivet one evening in late summer to request the hand of that pretty Mademoiselle Helene in matrimony. M. Jolivet, who had great trouble hiding his exuberance, puffed gravely at his pipe, reduced the young man to a state of gulping imbecility by a series of questions relative to his ambitions, prospects and industry, dilated for some time on the excellent qualities of his daughter, pointed out the high honor inherent in being received into the Jolivet family, and finally gave his consent. Next evening, the great Hermidas himself came over to pay his respects and the two old gentlemen drank wine. M Jolivet was in seventh heaven.
The note would fall due on the following Wednesday. Its renewal, on the usual terms, seemed as certain as Wednesday’s sunrise.
But the blow fell on Friday.
ON THAT evening, previous to the annual Fall Fair, the good M. Jolivet wa one of the taverns of the county town, expatiating upon the merits of that superb cow, Celinie, entered in the three-year-old class for the morrow.
“She will win the prize!” he predicted confidently. “Such milk as she gives ! There is no cow in the county like her. She is well bred. I knew her father well. Ah! He was a noble bull !”
His cronies wagged their heads. M. Wilfrid Mallette and M. Oscar Pilon, both from his native village, agreed that only rank prejudice and injustice on the part of the judges could deprive Celinie of the award. Hippolyte, losing his head in his enthusiasm, thereupon called for a pint all around.
At that moment, M. Hermidas Tessier, his gold watch-chain joggling comfortably on his broad waistcoat, his fat red face glowing with good will to all men, waddled into the tavern.
“It is my good neighbor, Hermidas!” cried Hippolyte, rising a little unsteadily and extending his hand. “Come ! Sit with us, M. Tessier. Make room there. He will tell you if my cow will win the prize. Sit down, Hermidas, old fellow. Sit down. Waiter!” He pressed the complacently puffing Hermidas into a chair.
M. Tessier, gravely accepting these solicitous attentions as his due, wheezed and panted.
“It should—ha—be good weather for the fair,” he decreed ponderously, in a rumbling voice, as he thumbed a quantity of shag into a capacious pipe.
The others chanted unanimous agreement.
‘‘Yes — ha — fine weather,” declared Hermidas, settling the matter.
Hippolyte went plunging excitably toward his downfall.
“We were talking, Neighbor, of cows,” he said, as the great man took a lusty gulp of ale.
“Cows?” puffed Hermidas. “Ha—cows?”
“You are not exhibiting any cows tomorrow. In that case, my good Hermidas, I may speak with confidence. Is there a finer cow, a better cow, within fifty miles, than my Celinie? I ask you, as man to man.”
M. Jolivet banged his fist on the table. “She will win first prize in her class, beyond a doubt.. Is that not so, Neighbor?”
M. Tessier lit his pipe very deliberately and considered the matter.
“She will win first prize, I say!” declared Hippolyte vehemently.
M. Tessier grunted.
“Your cow—ha—first prize?” he wheezed. “Of a certainty—ha—of a certainty. A splendid animal—ha — gentlemen !”
“You see?” crowed Hippolyte proudly. “M. Tessier, who knows cattle, says himself that Celinie will win the prize.”
“Yes,” observed M. Oscar Pilon, “you are a good judge of cattle, M. Tessier. You have won many prizes.”
“A few, a few,” admitted Hermidas modestly.
“You do not raise cows any longer?” said M. Malette.
“My good neighbor,” declared Hippolyte, "raises remarkable pigs.”
“I once—ha—raised cows,” M. Tessier said. “You may remember—ha—my Holstein—”
“It won the blue ribbon at Montreal !” cried Hippolyte triumphantly. “I remember it quite well, my good Hermidas. How could I forget? How proud we were that you should bring such an honor to our village! I remember it as if it were yesterday. Eight years ago—”
“Nine,” corrected Hermidas pontifically.
“Nine? But no! You are mistaken, Neighbor. Eight years—”
M. Tessier frowned slightly but the reckless Hippolyte, his head swimming, ploughed ahead.
“Nine,” muttered Hermidas.
“I have you there, my good Hermidas,” laughed Hippolyte jovially. “You forget when your own cow won the prize at Montreal ! Eight years ago. I remember it well because it was the year of the election when . Dupuis was beaten—”
“That,” said Hermidas positively, “was nine years ago.”
M. Jolivet disregarded the danger signals.
“Oh, no!” he chortled. “Eight years. Dupuis, you must remember, was beaten that year. They kicked the old rascal out of the House of Parliament—”
Hermidas choked suddenly on a mammoth gulp of ale. He turned purple in the face. He spluttered
“The what?” he bellowed.
Too late, M. Jolivet saw that he had ventured into the treacherous quicksand of politics. Too late he remembered the circumstances surrounding the defeat of M Dupuis. Too late he recalled his own part in that defeat, heard himself publicly acclaiming Dupuis, and saw himself privately voting against the villain. In deference to village opinion, which was strongly pro-Dupuis because the great Hermidas Tessier was campaign manager, he had stoutly affirmed loyalty to the party. His genuine convictions had been reserved for the sacred isolation of the polling booth.
“The what?” roared Hermidas again, setting down his glass.
“As I was saying,” gabbled Hippolyte, “it was the year poor M. Dupuis was cheated out of his election—”
“You called M. Dupuis an old rascal,” growled Hermidas thoughtfully.
“I heard you,” said M. Pilon in a suspicious tone.
“Nine years—eight years,” yammered the wretched Jolivet. “It was eight years ago—Waiter! Another quart all round for these gentlemen. As I was saying, it was nine years, my good Hermidas—I beg your pardon, nine years ago—”
“An old rascal, you said !” bellowed M. Tessier, the enormity of the offense dawning on him. His big hand slapped the table so violently that the glasses rattled. “One of the finest men we ever sent to Parliament—A rascal, you called him. An old rascal ! A candidate of your own party !” He choked. “So that’s your opinion of M. Dupuis, is it? Rascal? And you said you voted for him!”
The famous Tessier temper was rising.
“I know you now, Jolivet!” the great man bellowed. “I thought you looked smug when M. Dupuis was defeated, although you pretended to sympathize with me. Turncoat!” In matters political M. Tessier had a long memory. He leaned forward, panting with wrath, and deliberately snapped thumb and forefinger beneath Hippolyte’s nose. “I snap my fingers at you!”
Then, with equal deliberation, he picked up his glass and emptied it on the floor.
“Pah! It would poison me to drink with you.”
“M. Tessier—” pleaded Hippolyte, in the depths of misery.
“But, I assure you—”
“A mere slip of the tongue. I was joking—”
M. Jolivet turned pale. M. Tessier was quite purple. M. Pilon and M. Mallette, pop-eyed with excitement, glared reproachfully at the unhappy victim.
“My good Hermidas,” mumbled Hippolyte, “you forget yourself.”
“I? I forget myself? You say I forget myself?” spluttered Hermidas. He cast about him wildly for a fitting epithet. Out it came. “You—you toad!”
“You called me a toad?” said Hippolyte incredulously.
“A miserable green toad !”
M. Jolivet considered this.
“An insult,” he said in a reflective voice.
“The truth!” roared M. Tessier, heaving himself to his feet. “You insulted the excellent M. Dupuis. Bah! I am ashamed to own you as a neighbor. Neighbor? Ha!” he wheezed. “It will not be for long.”
M. Jolivet felt as though he had just received a jolting blow in the solar plexus. M. Tessier snapped his fingers.
“We shall see,” he added darkly, “on Wednesday.”
Then he waddled away, puffing and muttering with wrath.
M. Pilon and M. Mallette rose in silent disapproval and departed. Hippolyte was left alone. He blinked, dazed by disaster, and mechanically took a sip of ale. It tasted bitter. He would have preferred a large glass of carbolic acid.
EVEN Celinie’s triumph at the fair next day, when she duly won first prize in her class, failed to alleviate M. Jolivet’s misery. It is human nature to blame others for our mistakes, and the wretched man consoled himself by building up a fair case against his defenseless cow.
“Miserable animal !” he muttered. “If I had not brought you to the fair I would not have got into that argument in the tavern, M. Tessier would still be my friend, and I would not have to pay him seven hundred dollars on Wednesday.”
The thought of the staggering sum he must raise immediately threw him into a panic. It was, he knew, impossible. There was no hope of mercy. The Tessier temper, which came quickly to fever heat, cooled slowly. And if he could not meet the note he would have to sell his little farm. Hippolyte gulped as he pictured his wife and little ones, homeless and hungry, sitting by the roadside in a drenching rain. The prospect was bleak.
“But I still insist,” he maintained stubbornly to himself, “that M. Dupuis was an old rascal.”
Bad news travels swiftly. It had already reached his home when he returned that night. A second blow had fallen.
Napoleon Tessier, it appeared, was forbidden to marry that pretty Mademoiselle Helene Jolivet. The young man, wild-eyed and defiant, had marched into the house early that evening with the incredible tidings. There was a dreadful scene. Young Napoleon strode back and forth in a most melodramatic manner, tearing his hair, shaking his fists at the ceiling, vowing that no parental edict would dissuade him. He would, he declared, dig ditches for a living before he would give up his adored Helene. His devotion to Mademoiselle Jolivet burned with a brighter flame than the passion that consumed all the famous lovers in history. Parted from her, life would not be worth living; he would hang himself, leap into the river and take rat poison simultaneously; he might even go away to Ontario and work in a lumber camp. He was desperate. Napoleon staggered recklessly out into the night, shouting his vows of eternal fidelity at the stars.
M. Hippolyte Jolivet, who had already savored the bitterness of gall and wormwood, entered the house of lamentation to find his wife sobbing uncontrollably, his daughter locked in her room submerged in tears, the children sniffling, and even the baby squalling with more than its usual vigor.
Madame Jolivet was, to say the least, outspoken in her criticism.
“Miserable man !” she stormed. "What have you been doing now? Can you not be trusted to go to town alone? Must you insult our neighbors and ruin us all?”
“What is it that this is about?” asked Hippolyte, with a feeble pretense at ignorance.
“He asks what it is about!” shrieked the good woman. “Did you drink so much that you cannot remember? Your daughter’s future is ruined. The wedding is forbidden. Hermidas Tessier demands his money. And you ask what it is about! Have you no sense? If you must insult people, why must you insult the father of the young man who is to marry your eldest daughter? Why must you insult a man to whom you owe seven hundred dollars? Idiot! Fool! What did you say to him? It is I who ask you what is it about!” She paused for breath.
“A misunderstanding,” ventured Hippolyte weakly. “It was a—a political argument—”
She shrivelled him with a look.
“Politics! You argued politics with Hermidas Tessier!” she shrieked incredulously. Madame Jolivet placed her hands on her hips and regarded her spouse as if he were some unusually loathsome specimen of insect she had just discovered in the cupboard. “Politics! Where are your brains? Why did le bon Dieu give you a head? Not for the sake of your face, of a certainty. Does it hurt you to think? Can you think? You argued politics with Hermidas Tessier! What a dolt I married !”
“It was all the fault of that wretched Celinie—”
“Celinie! You would blame it on Celinie. That good cow has more brains in her tail than you have in your skull! She would know better than to argue politics with Hermidas Tessier.”
Emotion overcame Madame Jolivet. She abandoned herself to the luxury of hysterics. The children bawled with fear. M. Jolivet went hastily outside, tripped over a milk pail, kicked it viciously under the verandah, and took refuge in the barn with Celinie, that champion cow.
“Wretched beast!” he groaned. “You have brought disaster upon us.”
Celinie looked at him reproachfully. There is no doubt that she felt the injustice of his words most keenly.
NEXT morning, after a dismal breakfast, which Mademoiselle Helene refused to share and which Madame Jolivet rendered unappetizing by caustic comments on the destiny that had allotted her an imbecile as a husband, the unfortunate Jolivet trudged disconsolately across the fields toward Neighbor Tessier’s farm. He had scant hope that Hermidas would heed his explanations and apologies, but there was a remote possibility that the great man might relent. Hippolyte was grasping at any straw.
He was not, however, granted even this opportunity of humbling himself.
When he came into the barnyard he found young Napoleon Tessier engaged in some delicate surgery on the internal organs of a flivver. The two fellow victims of the great man’s wrath exchanged glances of mutual misery.
M. Jolivet meekly enquired for M. Tessier. He was informed that Hermidas was not at home. He had departed, not half an hour before, on a business trip to Montreal.
“My father,” said Napoleon bitterly, “was in a very bad temper when he left. I was to drive him to the station. Was it my fault that this wretched machine would not commence?” He indicated the dilapidated car, which had seen many years of service. “He called me a dolt and a mule. He had to go to the station on foot, across the back lots. Such language I have never heard. M. Jolivet, I ask you, is it not unjust that I should be blamed because the car does not commence?”
“Well ” said Hippolyte doubtfully. “M. Jolivet, in many ways my father is an excellent man. But he does not understand me.”
“He has misunderstood me,” said Hippolyte, reminded of his own wrongs, “very greatly.”
“If he thinks,” declared Napoleon, pounding the inoffensive car smartly with a wrench, “that he can dictate to me, he is mistaken. You have heard, sir, about his attitude toward the wedding?”
“My wife has mentioned the matter,” said Hippolyte, shuddering at the recollection.
“How,” asked Napoleon reverently, “is Mademoiselle Helene?”
“She takes it badly.”
“Poor, brave girl. I am forbidden to see her any more.”
“It is most unfortunate.”
"I am forbidden to marry her. My heart is broken.”
“One recovers,” said Hippolyte philosophically, finding that his own troubles were being neglected. “In my own case, now, the matter is much more serious.”
“I owe your father money.”
“Money! Bah!” said Napoleon scornfully. “What is money? One can always make more. But love, M. Jolivet, is different.” He pounded his chest. “If I cannot have your daughter, sir, life is not worth living. Money! If I should have two million dollars and lose it, I would laugh, so long as I could have my Helene.”
“Two million! You would laugh?” “
Four million—five! I would shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Pooh! What of it! I still have my adored Helene.’ That, sir, is the sort of man I am.”
“You are very young,” said M. Jolivet sadly.
“Do not worry, sir! Have no fear! I shall not give up my Helene. My father threatens to kick me out. Very well. Let him kick. I shall marry her anyway, and come and live at your place.”
“Good !” said Hippolyte without noticeable enthusiasm. “But if I cannot pay your father seven hundred dollars by Wednesday, there will be no place for you to come to.”
“What do I care?” said the heroic young lover. “Nothing shall separate me from my Helene!”
M. JOLIVET saw that nothing was to be gained by discussing the matter with young Napoleon, whose mind ran on one track and who was so selfishly intent upon romance that he had no time for the more serious troubles of others. More relieved than otherwise because the interview with Hermidas had been postponed, he left the young man spouting declarations of independence and returned home.
There, for the rest of the day and for the greater part of Monday, he led the existence of a pariah.
Madame Jolivet varied periods of grim silence with tumultuous outbursts of invective that did great damage to M. Jolivet’s dignity as nominal head of the household.
Mademoiselle Helene, having wept until she could weep no more, went dismally about the house, and frequently gave notice, in a resigned manner, that she intended to enter a convent at the earliest possible moment.
The children, who had been given to understand that their fattier was a moral leper who was bent on casting them out on the road and abandoning them to die of starvation, gaped at him in terror and scuttled fearfully out of his way whenever he approached them.
M. Jolivet, with all the emotions of a condemned murderer suffering a touch of smallpox on the eve of execution, awaited Wednesday and M. Tessier’s return from Montreal.
The arbiter of his destiny had not returned by Monday noon, and shortly after dinner M. Jolivet had a caller, in the person of M. Aristide Perrault, dealer in cream separators, second-hand cars, sewing machines, cattle, poultry, maple syrup and pumps. M. Perrault was a hustling gentleman who lost no time getting to the point.
“This cow of yours—Celinie. She won first prize at the fair.”
“A valuable animal,” said M. Jolivet, scenting a sale.
“I do not care to sell.”
“In that case,” said M. Perrault, reaching for his hat, “I will not waste my time.”
“One minute; one minute,” said Hippolyte hastily. “You might make an offer.”
“One hundred and fifty dollars.”
M. Jolivet laughed merrily.
“You joke, M. Perrault. That good cow is worth every cent of three hundred dollars. A champion cow!”
“It is you who joke. Perhaps—one hundred and seventy-five.”
They got down to the serious business of striking a bargain. After much haggling, after many protestations on the part of M. Jolivet that only stern financial necessity would bring him to part with Celinie, after many groans from M. Perrault who insisted that only sheer weakness in the cause of friendship would cause him to forsake all his business principles and offer such an exorbitant sum, they struck upon the amount of two hundred and twenty-five dollars.
M. Perrault thereupon departed briskly and promised to call with the papers and the money in the morning to complete the bargain and take Celinie away. M. Jolivet, knowing full well the uproar that would rise from the children if they learned that their pet was to be sold, said nothing to anyone and felt very miserable indeed.
That night, when the cattle came in from pasture, Celinie did not appear.
Now if Celinie had one fault it was an unhappy habit of wandering astray. She was, it must be understood, unlike other cows; her soul did not always abide restraint; her nature demanded wider horizons; she had always displayed an astonishing ingenuity in making her escape to the woods beyond the back lots.
M. Jolivet, quietly at first, made search. He hunted high and low. But Celinie was nowhere to be found.
A terrible fear struck the good man that Celinie might have wandered as far as the railway tracks. She might have been struck by a train. Or she might have reached the road, to be run down by a truck.
His luck being what it was, he expected the worst. The younger Jolivets were hastily marshalled and dispatched in various directions. The gathering twilight resounded with childish shouts. They searched the woods; they invaded the farm of M. Onesime Beauchamp; they even intruded on the sacred precincts of M. Tessier’s domain.
M. Jolivet was at his wit’s end. He blundered through the woods, pleading loudly with his lost Celinie to return to her nice warm stable. If anything had happened to that good cow it would be the crowning catastrophe. He shouted until he was hoarse, tripped over roots and rocks, barked his shins, tore his clothes. Darkness fell. Desolately, M. Jolivet gave up. He decided to go home.
And then, at this darkest moment of his life, oppressed by financial ruin, domestic turmoil and the loss of a two-hundred-and-twenty-five-dollar cow, feeling that his afflictions surpassed those of Job, he heard the distant tinkle of a bell.
M. Jolivet, with quickening hope, listened.
He heard the sound again, away over to the left, in the direction of the old sand-pit. It was, indeed, a bell. A cowbell. Celinie’s bell!
He stumbled through the gloom, toward the sand-pit. What if Celinie had fallen in? What if he should find her lying at the base of the steep slope at the north end of the pit, with a broken leg? She would have to be shot. Poor Celinie! Tears filled his eyes. Two hundred and twenty-five dollars gone.
M. Jolivet emerged from the woods. The sound of the bell was louder now. He permitted himself a degree of hope. It seemed that Celinie was coming toward him.
Out of the shadows at the south end of the pit suddenly emerged a surprising apparition. The bell jangled triumphantly.
“Celinie!” shrieked M. Jolivet in great delight. Then he peered at the approaching animal in amazement. Celinie had become hunchbacked.
It was not until he had rushed forward and heard an anguished groan that he realized that the bulky protuberance above Celinie’s back was a man—a great, helpless hulk of a man sprawled astride of that noble cow, clinging to her neck. Celinie lowed softly, as if to say: “See, M. Jolivet, what I have found.”
“Who—how—what is it?” stuttered M. Jolivet, stupefied.
“Ten thousand devils!” groaned the man on Celinie’s back. “Is it you, Jolivet? I am saved!”
It was incredible. But it was true. There was no mistaking that rumbling voice.
“Ah, this good cow,” muttered the helpless Tessier, as Celinie halted and stood patiently by her master. “She has saved my life. For two days have I lain in the accursed sand-pit with a broken leg. My good Hippolyte, take me to your home and get me a doctor without delay.”
NEED one tell more?
When the whole story became know, everyone marvelled at the intelligence of that good cow of M. Jolivet.
How Hermidas Tessier, hastening across the back lots toward the railway station, tumbled over the cliff at the north end of the sand-pit and broke his leg; how he lay there for a day, a night, and part of another day, suffering agonies of pain, hunger and thirst, his cries for help unheard; how he was found in this desperate plight by the wandering Celinie; how she appeased his raging thirst by her milk; how she stood so patiently while M. Tessier made many attempts to scramble upon her back; how she finally assisted him by lying down in the sand so that he was able to crawl astride—all this is history.
Need one say that M. Tessier, lying on the best bed in the Jolivet home that night, his broken leg set by that skilful veterinary surgeon, M. Doucet, was overwhelmed by gratitude that knew no bounds? Need one tell of his terrible wrath when he learned that Celinie was to be sold on the morrow?
“It must not be!” he declared. “Two hundred and twenty-five dollars. You would sell that noble animal for such a wretched sum? I offer three hundred. I wish to buy her as a wedding present.”
And a wedding present Celinie became. When the stout young Napoleon Tessier was married to that pretty Mademoiselle Helene Jolivet, the good Celinie was a gift of Hermidas. Such rejoicing as there was that day! Such merriment! It warmed one’s heart to see those two fine neighbors, M. Hermidas Tessier and M. Hippolyte Jolivet, agreeing that every man had a right to his own political opinion and that promissory notes were made to be renewed, then thumping on the table and bellowing forth the jovial chorus of “Allouette.” Ah! If all neighbors could get along so well !
Do you understand now why I wish I were a poet that I might extol the merits of that good cow of M. Jolivet in majestic language worthy of the subject? But perhaps, as I have already said, she would wish no greater tribute than M. Jolivet’s own words:
“She was, Monsieur, a cow incomparable.”