Saturday, make the fresh pan of cabbage soup. Add a little water day by day to the slowly simmering pot. Tuesday, bake new bread in the old oven in the yard, weather permitting. By next weekend soak wedges of the stale loaf ends in the soup, it's got to last until Tuesday.
Life on Tante Odette's smallholding wasn't one you'd envy, but she got by. Long Fall and Winter evenings brought the only taste of discontent. The light wasn't any too good for working late at her loom and time could lay heavy. Oh, for a little company. Sure she had her age-old companion Chouchou the cat, but Chouchou could only sit and purr, cats can't talk.
Then one Fall evening, from out of nowhere, came a rather strange old man, his name was Pierre Leblanc. Pierre was one of those people who, when they come knocking at your door, your first reaction is to wish you'd been out. Pierre had crinkles on his wrinkles, his face looked like old tanned leather left too long in the sun. On his top lip was a moustache so bushy you never need worry about loosing the yard broom again. He had squinty little eyes and a nose with far too many bumps. If all this was not enough, to emphasise his large stomach he wore a bright red sash around his middle. Then the strange apparition was topped off with a tiny woollen hat with a large black crow feather precariously clinging to its side. Pierre was not a man you could easily forget.
Pierre knocked at Tante Odette's door offering to work around the place, to do the awkward chores. He wouldn't take no for an answer. She was trying to close the door, he had his foot in the jam.
"Don't reject me out of hand, ask counsel of that wise cat by the stove." Was this man mad? Then up piped the cat, as clear as clear can be. "This looks to be a fine old man, and some of the work is getting to be a trial for you with your aching joints. Take him on. Take him on, but first things first, he needs a bowl of soup."
Well you don't argue with such an old friend, so she went to the pot with her ladle. She couldn't stop herself from asking one question though. "Chouchou, why have you never said anything before?" "I talk when the matter is important. I talk when the matter is important"
Pierre was a good worker, entertaining company of an evening too, always there with a yarn or two. Chouchou sat near the fire listening with an inscrutable smile on his face. And then one night after a particularly good tale about a grizzly in his canoe up piped Chouchou again.
"No more cabbages, Pierre can't work on cabbage soup and stale bread. What about pork pie and cheese?" Well, the idea was quite tempting to Odette too. Her new comfortable life had grown on her, a change for the better in the diet would be quite welcome.
Now Tante Odette wasn't that badly off, she'd led a frugal life and she'd always been one for saving. Some might have called her a miser for when Pierre was out chopping wood she would look out the old sock from her work basket and empty out her little treasure of coins and run them through her fingers. Chouchou would watch out of the corner of his eye and smile, and sometimes Odette would have the idea that someone else was looking too, but she never saw that faint shadow at the window.
After a few nights of cut and come again at the pork pie and cheese Chouchou stretched his whiskers, yawned and sat up looking straight at Tante Odette. "You can't eat money you know. Pierre's known as the best bargain hunter in all Canada, send him shopping for meat."
And what do you know, Pierre was a clever one with a deal. When he came home from the store next day he'd made those few meagre coins stretch to a bag of candy for Odette and a rub of tobacco for himself as well as the finest cut of meat the old lady had seen in many a day.
Life that Fall and Winter was fine, Tante Odette had found something she never knew she'd lost, happiness. Then, with the coming of Spring, came another man to her door. Georges, for that was his name, wore a red sash too and spoke of his crafty old friend Pierre, who he wanted to join him up country on a trapping spree. Georges described his old friend in exhaustive detail for some moments or more, finishing with, "…not a man you could easily forget." Then after pausing for breath he added, "He's entertaining company too. He can even throw his voice."
Now I'm sure you'll remember just how strange a sight Pierre made. Well, Tante Odette was certainly in no doubt that Georges' little cameo piece fitted her Pierre to a tee. Pierre was off at the store so she sent Georges away, but now she was in pensive mood.
Odette had some time for thought before Pierre's return and had her questions ready formed. "Well old man are you to be away trapping, off with your fine friend Georges?"
"We get no younger Odette. I'll be warmer and happier next to that old stove of yours, if you have need of me."
"But what of all this throwing of voices. Tell me how can I trust a man who does that?"
"Georges always was a joker, let's settle the matter, we'll ask Chouchou."
The wise, old cat stirred by the stove and slowly puffed himself up to his full height. "What nonsense! Whoever heard of a man throwing his voice? Now enough of all this skylarking, ask Pierre to stay and pay him a wage or he'll be off trapping, then who'll do all the chores?" With this long speech Chouchou shook himself from head to tail, turned slowly round and around, padded at the old rug, snuggled his whiskers down and snored off to sleep.
With Chouchou dozing by the fire, Pierre telling a convoluted tale and Tante Odette rocking in her favourite creaky old chair the three lived happily from that day on.