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Chapter 19


Somehow Henrietta Hen couldn't help liking Aunt Polly Woodchuck, in spite of her old-fashioned appearance. She certainly had a way with her--a way that made a person want to tell her his troubles.

"I don't know whether you can help me or not," said Henrietta Hen. "Have you any feathers in your basket?"

"No--no! No feathers!" Aunt Polly replied. "I use herbs in my business of doctoring. But I've heard that a burnt feather held under a body's nose will do wonders sometimes.... I must always carry a feather in my basket, hereafter."

"One feather wouldn't do me any good," said Henrietta Hen with a doleful sigh. "I need a great many more than one."

"You do?" Aunt Polly cried.

"Yes!" Henrietta answered. "Half my feathers have dropped off me. And that's why I've come to ask your advice. I'm fast losing my fatal beauty."

Henrietta Hen's voice trembled as she told Aunt Polly Woodchuck the dreadful news. "I don't believe you'll be able to help me," she quavered. "I'll soon look like a perfect fright. Besides, winter's coming; and how I'll ever keep warm with no feathers is more than I know."

Henrietta Hen couldn't understand how Aunt Polly managed to stay so calm. Henrietta had expected her to throw up her hands and say something like "Sakes alive!" or "Mercy on us!" But the old lady did nothing of the sort.

She set her basket down on the ground; and pushing her spectacles forward to the end of her nose, she leaned over and looked closely at Henrietta Hen. Aunt Polly's gaze travelled over Henrietta from head to foot and then back again. And she took hold of one of Henrietta's feathers and gave it a gentle twitch.

"Look out!" Henrietta cried. "You'll pull it out if you're not careful. And I can't afford to lose any more feathers than I have to."

"Don't worry!" Aunt Polly Woodchuck advised her. "Cheer up! There's nothing the matter with you. You are molting. You are going to get a new outfit of feathers for winter. Your old ones have to fall out in order to make room for the new. And no doubt the fresh ones will be much handsomer than the old."

Henrietta couldn't believe that Aunt Polly knew what she was talking about.

"I can't be molting as early in the fall as this," she protested. "I've never got my winter feathers so soon.... I fear you're mistaken," she told Aunt Polly.

"Oh, no! I'm not mistaken," Aunt Polly Woodchuck insisted. "I know it's early for molting--but haven't you noticed that the wheat grew big this year, and that the bark on young trees is thick? And haven't you observed that Frisky Squirrel is laying up a great store of nuts in his hollow tree, and that the hornets built their paper houses far from the ground this summer?"

Henrietta Hen's mouth fell open as she stared at Aunt Polly Woodchuck. And when the old lady paused, Henrietta looked quite bewildered.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she murmured. "I don't see what all this has to do with molting."

"Some of those signs," Aunt Polly explained, "mean an early winter; and some of 'em mean a cold one. I've never known 'em to fail. And you're molting early so you'll have a good warm coat of feathers by the time winter comes."

Well, Henrietta Hen began to feel better at once. She actually smiled--something she had not done for days.

"Thank you! Thank you!" she said. "You're a fine doctor, Aunt Polly. I don't wonder that folks ask your advice--especially when there's nothing the matter with them!"

And then Henrietta Hen hurried off down the lane. Being timid about hawks, she never felt quite comfortable far from the farmyard.

Arthur Scott Bailey

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