(a Canadian tale)
Once upon a time, but not so long ago that nobody remembers, a man named Clark McDonald lived with his family in the city. But Clark yearned for wide open spaces, livestock, the smell of autumn wheat and life in the countryside.
One day as he was traveling home along the sweeping St. Lawrence River, he happened to pass a farmhouse for sale. On a whim Clark decided to buy it, and then he hurried home and told his wife.
Carolyn McDonald worried the move might be too big, but she loved her husband. Besides, she was a hearty, adventurous soul. “It’ll be fun!” she said.
“The yard has apple trees,” Clark told her, and Carolyn beamed. “I’ll bake apple pies!”
And so they packed up all their belongings and their two children, Max and Michelle, and the family set off for the little town at the edge of the river.
On the second day as they were unpacking, Michelle said, “Dad, we need a horse!”
Clark agreed. “We need a lot of things, but first a horse, of course!” he said. “One needs a horse to work a farm.”
And he set off at once to find a horse.
Now Clark wasn’t exactly sure where to look, but as he was passing his neighbor’s farm, he saw the farmer tending his chickens.
“Hello there,” he called. “I’m Clark McDonald, the farmer next door.”
The chickens squawked and the pigs squealed, and the farmer smiled. He had seen many city folks move out to the country. They never knew much, and often they didn’t last through the winter. He figured Clark was this kind of fellow. But this was autumn, and the day was brisk and beautiful.
The leaves were changing color, and fresh apples and pumpkins and spice scented the air. “Good to meet you,” said the farmer. “I’m Mike.”
“Wonder if you could tell me where I can find a horse,” Clark said.
Mike stifled a grin. “Are you looking for a filly or a mare or a stud or a stallion or a gelding?” he asked Clark. Poor Clark had no idea. Then he remembered that a mare was a female horse. He liked the sound of that. So he said, “A mare, of course. Do you know where I might buy a young mare?”
Mike stifled his laugh, and as he caught sight of his field of pumpkins, he had an idea. “There they are,” he said, “a field of mare’s eggs right before your eyes.” He pointed to the pumpkins. “Glad to sell you one of ours.”
Clark was overjoyed. “Whatever they cost!” he said, and so the sale was made. Clark picked out the largest pumpkin he could carry.
Carefully cradling it against his chest, careful not to jostle it, Clark staggered home. He couldn’t wait to share the great news with his family. Soon they would be proud parents. But then he remembered that he had neglected to ask Clark how long it would be before the mare was hatched.
Now that he was walking home, he was too embarrassed to ask. Mike would think him a fool. Never mind. He would just have to be patient.
He carried the pumpkin into the barn and called to his family. “Come! Come see our mare’s egg.”
Everyone gathered and applauded Clark’s find. But then Carolyn shook her head. “This poor egg needs someone to keep it warm,” she said. “You’ll have to sit on it to keep it warm until the mare is born.”
“Naturally,” Clark said. “Of course.”
“How long will it take?” Michelle asked.
“Not long at all,” Clark promised. That night he carried his blanket and his thermos out to the barn, and he sat upon the mare’s egg all night long. The next day he stayed right where he was, and through the night, and the day after that and the day after that.
After a week had passed, he pressed his ear to the egg. When he didn’t hear a sound, he carried the egg into the house. “Perhaps she needs a little more warmth,” he told Carolyn. “It’s mighty cold outside.”
Carolyn agreed, but she thought she ought to take her turn sitting. “You go ahead and rake out the barns and feed the cats and fix the porch and paint the barn, and I’ll sit upon our sweet mare’s egg,” she told Clark.
She spread a patchwork quilt by the fireplace, rolled the pumpkin onto it and sat there day after day, night after night, patient and gentle. She cooed to the egg, “Hurry up, little one, you’ll want to be born before the snow.”
But the days passed and nothing happened.
Now the pumpkin was sitting in the kitchen beside the open fire where the heat was fierce, and it began to grow soft. In the third week it began to ooze from its center. Carolyn had to take care not to sit too hard for fear she would squash it altogether.
“It smells!” Max complained.
“It stinks!” Michelle agreed, for the pumpkin was so soft and so ripe that the whole house began to smell the way no one likes a house to smell.
“Take it outside, Dad,” Max demanded. “We can’t live like this.”
Clark and Carolyn agreed, and being as careful as he could, Clark picked it up and walked outside.
“I’ll take you to the barn and wrap you in the nice, warm hay,” he whispered, but he wasn’t watching where he was walking, and he tripped on a stick and lost hold of his precious cargo.
The pumpkin hit the ground in a spot where the land curved into a hill that ran down to the stream, and before Clark could stop it, the egg tumbled downhill and disappeared in a thicket of brush.
A little hare was fast asleep when the pumpkin plowed into the bush. That hare was so startled that it leaped up and out of the brush.
“There’s our mare!” Clark cried, and he set off, chasing the poor frightened creature. “Come back!” he cried. “You’re our mare! You belong to us.”
Naturally the hare got away.
Michelle began to cry, but Clark put his arms around her and Max, as did Carolyn.
They smiled and comforted their children and their own broken hearts. “Don’t worry. Next year we’ll find a nice, fresh mare’s egg, and we’ll be more careful!” Clark assured them tenderly.