Chicken bones and cranberries

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The speckled hen

There once lived two sisters in Bluebells, Nadine and Maurine. Both were beautiful as spring and summer, yet different in character as night and day.
Nadine married a wealthy merchant and enjoyed a plentiful life, while Maurine, against all counsel, married a poor young man, who was raised by his grandmother and made his living as a gardener.
At the modest wedding, the groom’s grandmother presented Maurine with a speckled hen. “Take this hen,” she whispered secretly to the bride, “and keep it well; though it had never laid an egg, it will be your greatest treasure for it has a magic ability to find healing herbs.”
Maurine graciously accepted the grandmother’s present and promised to keep the hen very well. It was truly magical. Each time Maurine told the hen about a sickness, it walked into the garden, pecked and searched, then brought the needed remedy. Simplest herbs touched by the magic hen seemed to heal aches and pains like no other medicines had.
Just like the grandmother taught her, Maurine kept the little black hen her secret and never showed off. Despite that, the rumors of the gardener’s wife and her amazing healing talent very soon spread over the town and even beyond. People came to Maurine more often than they used the doctor, because her remedies always worked. She relieved toothaches and migraines, healed stomachaches and nasty colds faster than anyone else.
Thankful patients paid Maurine generously; some with coins, some with bread, and some with honey – whatever their wealth was. Maurine and her husband began to live very comfortably; in between the gardener’s earnings and Maurine’s magical healing practice soon there was enough for two pairs of new shoes, warm winter coats and decent meals to enjoy.
For Christmas Maurine made a large basket full of pastries and cured meats, and sent it to her sister Nadine, who rarely kept in touch. The Christmas treat had baffled[1] Nadine, leaving her puzzled; how could her sister, who was not even very clever, or a good cook, manage such a successful household on such limited budget? Everyone knew that gardeners never make a lot of money. Out of curiosity, Nadine decided to pay her sister a visit.
Maurine was glad to see her sister. She set the table with her best crockery and offered the tastiest dishes she could cook: a honey roasted goose, and a cherry pie for dessert. Jealous Nadine asked how the family could afford such delicacies. Maurine could not keep her secret away from Nadine. “I have a little speckled hen. It helps me heal people, and that is how we earn the money,” said Maurine.
The next day, before leaving the village, the wicked sister paid one of Maurine’s neighbors a golden coin to catch and kill the speckled hen.
Maurine called and called for her magical friend, but the hen never came. “Have you seen my speckled hen?” she asked the neighbor’s boy who was playing near her house. “Yes, I have! My father found it in our peas, it was pecking,” replied the boy.
Fast as a falcon, Maurine flew to the neighbor’s house, and found the man smoking his pipe on the porch. “Have you seen my speckled hen,” Maurine asked, trembling. “Oh, was it yours?” the neighbor replied crossly, and spit on the ground. “It is roasting in my oven now. Be glad that I could use it at all, for the rascal had ruined my wife’s vegetable garden with its pecking. Next time you will know how to keep your chickens off my property!”
In bitter tears Maurine ran to her husband’s grandmother and told her what had happened. The grandmother said to her, “go to your neighbor’s wife, but do not argue, just beg her to give you the hen’s feathers and bones. Under a waxing moon dig a hole in your backyard and burry the feathers, then water them with rain water for twelve nights in the row. Polish the bones and make a necklace on the thirteenth night with what you harvest.”

Maurine did as the grandmother told her. She begged for the feathers and bones of the speckled hen, buried the feathers in her backyard, and watered like she was supposed to, for twelve nights. On the thirteenth night she discovered a little bush covered with beautiful cranberries that glistened under the full moon. Following the grandmother’s instructions, Maurine collected the berries, and made a necklace of the speckled hen’s bones and cranberries. Now you, my dear, know the story of Priscilla’s precious necklace.

[1] Baffle: to confuse or perplex someone.

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