Throwback Thursday: Madame Chlorisse & Associates by Penny Jo McAllister
Once upon a time there was an ambitious young enchantress named Daisy Bigelow who was just finishing her internship at the enchantment firm Madame Chlorisse and Associates. Daisy had just finished her final task as an intern and hoped to become a junior associate with the firm.
Confident that she had handled the case perfectly, she looked forward to her performance review with Madame Chlorisse and regarded the interview as a formality. The case had involved two young women, sisters. One had been very sweet and generous to Daisy when she appeared at the drinking well disguised as an old beggar woman who could offer her nothing in return for a drink of water. To reward the girl’s kindness, she caused diamonds and pearls to appear whenever she spoke, ensuring her a life of prosperity. Her sister had failed the same test, refusing her a drink even though it would have cost her nothing. So she caused toads and vipers to appear whenever she spoke.
Confident of her success, she was confused by the icy expression on Madame Chlorisse’s face as she handed her next week’s newspaper.
Daisy studied the headlines and read out loud. “Local girl mysteriously speaks diamonds, will marry prince next week.” Daisy beamed. “I’m so happy for her! Why do you look so sad, Madame?”
“Some princesses find a palace to be a prison and their prince a jailor. Read on.”
“Woman found dead in wood surrounded by toads. Served her right! Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Remember last week’s proverb?”
“An act of grace can turn a beast into a beauty, but sudden riches can corrupt an angel.” Daisy’s eyes began to water.
They were both silent, and Daisy began to weep.
Chlorisse took the clock from the mantle, opened the glass, and turned the hands back several times. Then said, “I believe in you, child. I’ve turned back the days. Return to the well, and we’ll see how things turn out.”
Daisy waited at the well. She took the form of a pleasant-faced middle-aged woman. Eventually, a young woman approached carrying her water jug.
“Please miss could you draw me out some water? I’ve lost my pitcher.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Daisy drank and thanked the girl, saying she wished she had something to give her in return.
“It’s all right ma’am. I’m just happy I could help.”
Daisy returned every day to the well and got to know the girl. She found out that her name was Ellarose, that she had a crush on the baker’s son, and that she loved to garden. Sometimes Daisy would bring flowers or seeds to her. Ellarose, in turn, would bring Daisy books, and they’d talk about their favorite authors. One day Ellarose told Daisy that she was the best friend she’d ever had and how she blessed that day she’d asked her for a drink.
Then one day Daisy found Ellarose weeping at the well and asked her what was wrong. It was the first time Ellarose had ever spoken of her family. She told of how her father had died, leaving just her and her mother and her sister Fanchelle. How they abused her and called her names and made her do all of the work and never allowed her to go out except to the well.
“I can’t take it anymore. I’m running away. But I can’t bear to leave you, Daisy.”
“Come stay with me. You can live in my cottage just across the wood. I think my garden would love you. I have such a black thumb.”
So Ellarose and Daisy left together that very day. They passed through the woods and came to Daisy’s cottage. She saw so many beautiful plants and flowers she’d never seen before, and knew that Daisy underestimated her gardening skills.
“Perhaps you can find a way to keep the slugs away.”
Ellarose loved working in the garden. And even though she worked just as hard as she had at home, sometimes from sunup until late at night, she couldn’t have been happier.
But Daisy had been right about the slugs. They were impossible to get rid of, and they ate almost everything. They were unlike any other slugs she’d ever known. They were the size of her hand, moved almost as fast as she walked, and learned to recognize her traps very quickly, so Ellarose used almost all of her free time devising new ways to trap them and kill them.
Daisy still went to the well because Ellarose was afraid her family would see her and make her go home. One day Daisy was at the well, and a woman approached who could only be Ellarose’s sister.
“I see you are tired from the walk here. Let me draw some water for you.”
Fanchelle grunted a thank you, took some water, and turned home. Every day Daisy would draw water for Fanchelle getting only a grunted thanks in return. And after a few days Fanchelle began acting entitled to having Daisy draw water for her.
“I can’t see that there will ever be any beauty in that one. Maybe I should just curse her and be done with it.”
But being afraid to disappoint Madame Chlorisse again, she continued to draw water for the ungrateful Fanchelle.
One day Daisy waited until well after sunset, and Fanchelle hadn’t arrived. Thinking she’d finally seen the last of the ingrate, she decided to leave. But then she saw Fanchelle walking hurriedly towards the well looking more unpleasant than usual. When she got there she ordered Daisy to draw water for her and to be quick about it.
Daisy had had enough. “Vipers and toads! Get it yourself.” she spat. And she threw the pitcher at her and walked away.
“How dare you!” Fanchelle croaked as a toad jumped from her mouth. “Get back here and draw my water!” A viper emerged from her mouth, and she ran off into the woods in fright.
Daisy thought no more about Fanchelle as she and Ellarose started up a produce business that brought prosperity and health to all of the surrounding villages. Sometimes their yields were smaller because of the slugs, but they always had enough. Sometimes the slugs seemed to outsmart them, but Ellarose always found a way to control them.
One market day Daisy developed a bad cold, and Ellarose had to go town with her produce. She was no longer afraid of her family, so she set off with her goods. Halfway through the woods, she spotted a woman lying on the ground surrounded by toads. She got out of the wagon and went over to her. She recognized her sister at once. She thought she was dead at first, but a flicker of her eyelids told her otherwise.
All of the memories of how she’d been treated flooded her mind, and she turned back to continue her mission. Then, a pang of mercy made her turn back to her sister. She helped her to her feet, put her into the wagon and drove her back to the cottage where she slept for several days.
Ellarose attended to her sister, and when she awoke she fed her the best soups and vegetables to help her grow strong. Soon, Fanchelle had regained all of her strength; unfortunately her temperament was the same as Ellarose had remembered, and she regretted saving her life. Fanchelle demanded her meals to be ready at certain times, complained if the flavor was even slightly off, and called Ellarose every foul name she could think of. The cottage soon became infested with vipers and toads.
One day, after one of Fanchelle’s tantrums, Ellarose calmly said to her:
“Fanchelle, I did not have to bring you here; I could have left you to die. Because I stopped to help you, we lost a lot of revenue and will have to sell at least twice as much produce to keep the cottage. Please request things nicely or go out into the woods. I will not have our cottage and garden overrun by toads and vipers. If Daisy were not still ill, I would drive you back to mother’s right now.”
Fanchelle altered her behavior immediately because since Ellarose’s departure her mother had become unbearable, turning all of unpleasant attentions on her. She pitched in with all of the chores and spoke as sweetly as Ellarose.
Market day came again, and Ellarose went to inspect the week’s harvest. Slugs had eaten all of the squash and were advancing on the cucumbers. Their prospects of keeping the cottage were diminished significantly.
Fanchelle lost her temper. “Curse theses slugs!” And out jumped a toad who ate all of the slugs.
The two sisters laughed and ran around the garden together yelling “Curse these slugs!”
They’d found a solution to their slug problem, saved the cucumbers, brought in record profits that day, and begun to be friends.
Daisy, feeling much better, smiled at them through the window. The next day a letter arrived for Daisy with Madame Chlorisse’s seal.
* * *
Dear Ms. Bigelow,
We would like to offer you the position of Junior Associate Enchantress at the firm of Madame Chlorisse and Associates. We are much impressed by your work as an intern and by your creative use of garden slugs in the case of Ellarose vs. Fanchelle.
Please contact our office at your earliest convenience to negotiate your terms of employment.
We look forward to having you as part of our team.
Penny Jo McAllister is a US-based writer.
Art by Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff