THREE of Madame′s finest bronze turkeys were missing from the brood. It was nearing Christmas, and that was the reason, perhaps, that even Monsieur grew agitated when the discovery was made. The news was brought to the house by Sévérin′s boy, who had seen the troop at noon a half mile up the bayou three short. Others reported the deficiency as even greater. So, at about two in the afternoon, though a cold drizzle had begun to fall, popular feeling in the matter was so strong that all the household forces turned out to search for the missing gobblers.
Alice, the housemaid, went down the river, and Polisson, the yard-boy, went up the bayou. Others crossed the fields, and Artemise was rather vaguely instructed to "go look too."
Artemise is in some respects an extraordinary person. In age she is anywhere between ten and fifteen, with a head not unlike in shape and appearance to a dark chocolate-colored Easter-egg. She talks almost wholly in monosyllables, and has big round glassy eyes, which she fixes upon one with the placid gaze of an Egyptian sphinx.
The morning after my arrival at the plantation, I was awakened by the rattling of cups at my bedside. It was Artemise with the early coffee.
"Is it cold out?" I asked, by way of conversation, as I sipped the tiny cup of ink-black coffee.
"Where do you sleep, Artemise?" I further inquired, with the same intention as before.
"In uh hole," was precisely what she said, with a pump-like motion of the arm that she habitually uses to indicate a locality. What she meant was that she slept in the hall.
Again, another time, she came with an armful of wood, and having deposited it upon the hearth, turned to stare fixedly at me, with folded hands.
"Did Madame send you to build a fire, Artemise?" I hastened to ask, feeling uncomfortable under the look.
"Very well; make it."
"Matches!" was all she said.
There happened to be no matches in my room, and she evidently considered that all personal responsibility ceased in face of this first and not very serious obstacle. Pages might be told of her unfathomable ways; but to the turkey hunt.
All afternoon the searching party kept returning, singly and in couples, and in a more or less bedraggled condition. All brought unfavorable reports. Nothing could be seen of the missing fowls. Artemise had been absent probably an hour when she glided into the hall where the family was assembled, and stood with crossed hands and contemplative air beside the fire. We could see by the benign expression of her countenance that she possibly had information to give, if any inducement were offered her in the shape of a question.
"Have you found the turkeys, Artemise?" Madame hastened to ask.
"You Artemise!" shouted Aunt Florindy, the cook, who was passing through the hall with a batch of newly baked light bread. "She ′s a-lyin′, mist′ess, if dey ever was! You foun′ dem turkeys?" turning upon the child. "Whar was you at, de whole blesse′ time? Warn′t you stan′in′ plank up agin de back o′ de hen-′ous′? Never budged a inch? Don′t jaw me down, gal; don′t jaw me!" Artemise was only gazing at Aunt Florindy with unruffled calm. "I warn′t gwine tell on ′er, but arter dat untroof, I boun′ to."
"Let her alone, Aunt Florindy," Madame interfered. "Where are the turkeys, Artemise?"
"Yon′a," she simply articulated, bringing the pump-handle motion of her arm into play.
"Where ′yonder′?" Madame demanded, a little impatiently.
"In uh hen-′ous′!"
Sure enough! The three missing turkeys had been accidentally locked up in the morning when the chickens were fed.
Artemise, for some unknown reason, had hidden herself during the search behind the hen-house, and had heard their muffled gobble.