MONSIEUR DUMAS AND HIS BEASTS 137
understood that she had the good fortune to belong to a master who knew how to combine the useful with the beautiful. Whenever these hens ventured out upon the road, strangers would exclaim with delight, ' Oh! what beautiful hens! ' to which some one better acquainted with the wonders of this fortunate village would reply, 'I should think so! These are M. Charpillon's hens.' Or, if the speaker were of an envious disposition, he might add, ' Yes indeed! hens that nothing is thought too good for!'
When my friend Charpillon heard that I had returned from Paris, he invited me to come and stay with him to shoot, adding as a further inducement that he would give me the best and freshest eggs I had ever eaten in my life. Though I did not share Charpillon's great love of poultry, I am very fond of fresh eggs, and the nankeen-coloured eggs laid by his Brahma hens had an especially delicate flavour. But all earthly pleasures are uncertain. The next morning Charpillon's hens were found to have only laid three eggs instead of eight. Such a thing had never happened before, and Charpillon did not know whom to suspect; however he suspected every one rather than his hens, and a sort of cloud began to obscure the confidence he had hitherto placed in the security of his enclosures. While these gloomy doubts were occupying us, I observed Michel hovering about as if he had something on his mind, and asked him if he wanted to speak to me.
' I should be glad to have a few words with you, sir.'
' In private ? '
' It would be better so, for the honour of Pritchard.'
'Ah, indeed? What has the rascal been doing now?'
' You remember, sir, what your solicitor said to you one day when I was in the room ?'
' What did he say, Michel ? My solicitor is a clever man, and says many sensible things ; still it is difficult for me to remember them all.'