As often as she can, Taïga bikes out to the countryside. As she’s the only child in her class that doesn’t go home on weekends, she is happy to have something to do. Her favorite destination is Papy Pivert’s farm.
They have got new bikes at school, red and blue, specially painted so because of the recent wave of bike thefts in town. These blue and red bikes are easily seen from afar and known by everyone as belonging to the academy. Taïga doesn’t care much about the color. The most important is that it carries her and her sketchbook all the way to Papy Pivert’s farm. So when she gets the opportunity she uses Henri’s road bike with eleven gears which is much faster than the academy’s three gears new roadster bikes.
Since the night she fell asleep under the large oak tree her first year at the Academy, she has returned to watch the horses.* She was surprised to see there were several of them, not always the same.
At first she only went on Sundays, as the village church, Notre Dame des Champs, is right next to the first field. She stayed through mass, and as soon as it was over she hurried outside to watch the horses.
One Sunday she went to see the horses first, and totally missed the beginning of mass. She was on the opposite side of the field when the church bells tolled and she didn’t want to come running into the silent edifice after everyone was seated. Instead, she decided to check out how big the field really was.
When she followed the wooden fence, it brought her to more fields, with even more horses…
… and finally to where she could see the farm in the distance.
The horse she had first met was fierce and proud, and not a little ornery. He kept the other horses at a distance, prancing around and snorting, or flattening his ears close to his head and snapping at them if they came to close.
Taïga loved watching the proud animals but she was a little scared, too.
She had her own favorite place on a hill where she could see down into the adjoining fields. She would settle against the big oak tree on the top and sketch. Sometimes the brown horse would show up. He was much calmer when he was let out into the smaller field on his own, and even though his size was intimidating, he was very gentle and most of the time just stayed a few yards away, watching her or just grazing.
She usually brought her sketchbook to try to capture them on paper, but it was difficult. She concentrated on the old draft horse in the adjoining field as it didn’t move around so much. It usually just stood sleeping in the shadows under one of the many oaks. It was scrawny and its dapple grey coat had become almost white, but it had a long sweeping mane and Taïga used to fantasize about a prince riding it to fight dragons and save princesses. It seemed to have been just that kind of fairy tale mount and in her head she named the old horse King…
King was also the only other horse the young stallion seemed to tolerate. She liked to watch them standing peacefully head to tail to keep off the insistent flies.
During the cold winter months, the horses were only turned out for a few hours, covered in thick blankets. It was too cold for Taïga to stay long, so she just rode her bike along the fence. The horses came galloping next to her, the brisk cold encouraging them to run and jump around.
… and now the cold is over, I ride my bike out to the countryside again, to the horses. The brown horse seem to remember me, he even neighs when he sees me. I’m bringing carrots and stale, hardened baguette and they love it. There are a few horses that are quite big and I think there will be foals one of these days.
Do you remember the old grey horse I named King? He is not there anymore and I’m afraid he is gone forever. The stallion seem to miss him. He often stands alone under “their” tree, looking around him and neighing. It is so sad…
… so I just go there on my free time and draw them, as you can see…”
She would like to send Granny her drawing of the old horse, but something holds her back. Instead she carefully folds another drawing of a running horse and puts it into the envelope together with the letter.
When spring points is nose on Taïga’s second year in France, so does a few foals. Frail, long legged creatures that don’t venture far from their mothers except for playing with each other. Taïga could watch them for hours.
The stallion becomes unapproachable and she doesn’t venture into the field where there are several horses, even though she is tempted to play with the foals. She prefers being prudent and admires the stallion’s spirit from the safety behind the wooden fence.
The horse she had befriended is apparently the father of the foals coming this spring. She watches them from afar, sitting on the fence or on a rock in the adjoining field. After a while they get used to her presence and one of the foals is a little more curious than the other. It smells her everywhere from a little distance, stretching its neck as long as it can, but finally decides that the danger of approaching is worth it. It takes a step in her direction, coming close enough to the fence so she can pet it. Soon Taïga is caressing the soft, silky head, talking to it softly. It is even smoother than the big well-kept horses and she loves how it prods her with its little velvety nose. Suddenly it pinches her and she yelps. She bangs her head on the planks when she quickly withdraws, pulling up her sleeve to check the bite-mark on her forearm. The foal has galloped away, putting a safe distance between itself and the strange little human. It peeks at her from the safety of his mother’s protective bulk.
Taïga massages her arm, knowing the red bite-mark will become a bruise in a few hours. She can’t imagine what it would feel like to be bitten by one of the big horses – she has seen the stallion’s teeth and heard his jaws snap shut.
She climbs the fence, deciding to stay just a little while longer.
It is such a warm late April evening, and she doesn’t want to bike back to the empty school. She lingers, perched on the wooden fence, not caring if the wood splinters destroys her woolen pantyhose. It is way too warm for them anyway, and if they are in a piteous state, maybe she won’t have to wear them. The stallion is in an adjoining field, prancing along the separation, neighing and puckering for attention. Taïga caresses the silky fur of the chestnut mare next to her watching the curious foal play around with her tail. If only she would dare get on its back. She remembers two years ago in Monte Aquila, when they had found a horse in the olive grove.* But then again, she had not been alone, and the horse had been so much calmer than the thoroughbreds in these fields.
The chestnut mare startles and sets off with her foal in her wake, followed by all the other horses that had been grazing in the vicinity. Taïga can make out two small figures coming running through the field, waving and shouting her name.
Agnès and Jeanne!
Without hesitation she jumps down into the field and starts running towards her friends.
They hug and ask, all at the same time, ‘What are you doing here?’
Taïga quickly explains that she uses to come here and watch the horses, and Agnès burst out laughing.
‘It’s my grandfather’s farm. All the horses are his. I have a new pony, and Jeanne also has one, a Shetland pony, but there is Jalouse for you!’
‘Err… I’m not jealous,’ Taïga says, feeling a little jealous nevertheless.
‘It’s the pony’s name, stupid,’ Jeanne says. ‘You’ll love her.’
They help Taïga to pass her bike over the fence and then they trek through the field towards the big main building.
‘Papy will surely make us crêpes, now that we have a visitor!’ Agnès says happily.
‘Super. I’ve had enough of his soup every time I come here.’ Jeanne grimaces.
‘Do you come often?’ Taïga asks. She thought her friends went home to their families on weekends.
‘Almost every weekend. My parents live so far away, in Bordeaux, and it’s easier to stay here. And I have a pony, too. Her name is Jupille and she’s the cutest but she’s extremely lazy. She hates jumping.’
Taïga wishes Granny would let her have a pony, too. ‘So you live here, Agnès?’
‘No, just my Papy. But I come here almost every weekend to train my pony. She’s a French ’
‘He breeds show jumping horses. They sell for lots of money and you can watch them on TV.’
‘Right. Every horse whose name end with “des Champs” is born here. The one you petted by the fence is called Pluie des Champs. It’s her first foal, but she doesn’t have a name yet. Pluie has won lots of competitions…’ Agnès is inexhaustible when it comes to information about her grandfather’s horses and chats nonstop until they arrive at the house.
‘Papy is a little grumpy, but he’s a sweetheart. C’mon.’
She pushes open the door and they enter a small hall that opens on a big, unused dining room. It is dark and dusty and it smells of beeswax and tobacco. Their trainers and Taïga’s leather soles whisper and clatter softly against the uneven stoneflooring as they cross the room to another door, slightly ajar. Agnès pushes it open and they step into a large living room. A fire is pleasantly crackling in an old fireplace, throwing a golden light over the otherwise shady room.
‘I thought I had told you not to use the main entrance,’ a raspy voice says in French from behind a newspaper.
‘I know, Papy. But it was faster.’
The old man folds the newspaper carefully, looking Taïga over from the worn armchair. ‘I recognize that uniform,’ he says, smiling a little.
‘Papy, je te présente Taïga, une amie de mon école.’ Agnès makes a sweeping gesture with her hand. ‘We’re in the same class.’
The old man only seem to speak French, but after two years at the Academy, Taïga is almost fluent.
‘On voulait savoir si on pouvait monter derrière le tracteur tout à l’heure?’ Jeanne asks, adding proudly to Taïga in English, ‘Papy has a tractor and I can drive it.’
Papy scratches his chin. ‘Je pourrais vous déposer au pré – il faut rentrer vos poneys pour la nuit.’ He winks at Taïga. ‘Ah spik a litteul Anglische! And zere arre deux newborn foals forr you to see.’
Papy takes them on a tour through the orchards and Agnès points out the different fruit trees; plums, cherries but mostly apples. The ground is still patched white and light pink from fallen petals and the air smells sweet of newly mown grass mixed with a whiff off manure and a little touch of gasoline from the tractor. The first cherries of the season are soon mature and Papy invites her to come and help picking them.
‘Last year we picked tons of cherries!’
‘Yeah, and we climbed the ladder and had a secret place in one of the trees.’
‘You sure eat more than you pick, les filles,’ Papy intervenes, making them all giggle.
Jeanne is on her knees, leaning over the edge looking for her skewbald pony, Jupille.
Papy’s voice carries with difficulty over the din of the tractor. He explains proudly that he has succeeded in creating an apple tree that gives fruit in spring. Taïga is suitably impressed – she knows apples mature in late summer.
Agnès lowers her voice. ‘It’s not actually true you know, he has tried for a couple of years to create a peach/apple hybrid, and the tree has grown in a little greenhouse. It started flowering for the first time in October and now it bears fruit, but the greenhouse grew too warm and the fruit started to go bad, so he had to deconstruct it a few days ago. We were picking the fruit when Jeanne saw you, but to be honest they taste like ordinary apples. You’ll see when we get back…’
Jeanne jumps down to open the gates as they enter and exit the different fields. Suddenly a little dark shape comes running out of the shadows of some thick bushes.
‘That’s Jalouse! Come here, girl!’ Agnès calls. The pony is already heading for the tractor trotting quickly, her short legs beating a fast rhythm. Taïga has never seen such a tiny horse in her life. She is chubby with a long mane and a thick forelock that hangs over dark, mischievous eyes.
‘Your pony is incredibly cute,’ she says, reaching out her hand towards the approaching little horse.
‘That’s because you haven’t seen Jupille – she’s the cutest,’ Jeanne exclaims.
‘Mistral is the cutest for me now,’ Agnès says pointing towards a silver colored pony a little further away. ‘Papy bought him for my birthday and he is very promising.’
Taïga nods. Promising? She doesn’t want to sound ignorant by asking. She’ll probably find out what is promising with the splendid pony later.
Jeanne catches sight of Jupille and taps her hands against the wood of the little cart to get the grazing pony’s attention. Jupille is light brown and white and looks like a small, fat Paint horse. She is, if possible, even cuter than Jalouse. She neighs and sets off towards them, still chewing on a mouthful of grass.
Both ponies follow the tractor as it makes a slow stop. Agnès sets off towards her new pony, Mistral, and Jeanne quickly takes care of Jupille. Taïga stands a little forlornly with a blue halter in her hand. Jalouse looks at her, seeming to ask what is going to happen now.
‘Put the lead rope over her neck, then you just do what we showed you.’
Taïga caresses Jalouse, taking up position on the left side. Jalouse doesn’t move, just watches her with curiosity in her mild eyes. A little clumsily Taïga guides the halter over Jalouse’s nose, then behind her ears before fastening the crown piece. Jalouse shakes her head and starts walking towards the stables.
‘Hey! Wait!’ Taïga is swept off her feet but keeps a fierce grip on the lead rope.
Jeanne catches up with her. ‘Jalouse is used to be first, there’s nothing you can do about it. She just tries to see if you’re worth her respect or not.’
Taïga trots alongside the little black pony who obstinately advances.
‘She weighs about 250 kg, you know, so muscular-wise even an adult comes short,’ Jeanne adds.
Taïga thinks about it. ‘So how do I get her to respect me?’
‘Well… I’ve never thought about that. I guess you should decide the pace.’
‘Yes, and you should lead.’ Agnes arrives with her pony that from this close up seems huge. ‘Jalouse is used to lead when we ride out, and she is very stubborn.’
Taïga wonders why they can’t leave the ponies in the field with the other horses and Jeanne explains that they eat too much grass.
‘Uh-huh. They can get “grass founder” disease and die,’ Agnès adds.
‘Die? From eating grass? I mean horses are meant to eat grass, aren’t they?’ Taïga asks.
‘Yeah, you would think so, but they are Shetland ponies and not used to such rich food. They get inflammations in their hooves and problems with walking and then they just die.’
They walk in silence for a while, all pondering the terrible disease. Even Jalouse slows down a bit and lets Taïga take the lead.
A few minutes later Taïga and Jalouse seem to have found a compromise. Taïga walks ahead of the little black mare, chatting with Agnès while Jeanne brings up the rear. From times to times, Jalouse tries to overtake her handler, but Taïga follows the girls’ advice and raises her hand a little, saying “whoa” firmly, and that seems to be enough.
Taïga follows her friends into the big country kitchen. A big black and white cat comes towards them and when Taïga bends down to pet it, she throws a glance out of the window. To her surprise she can see the three ponies they just had left in the little enclosure next to the stables. They are feasting on apples left in a wooden crate next to a little tree that must be the famous apple/peach tree. Was it she who closed the gate? No, she is sure it was Agnès. She watched her latch the gate and shaking it, so it was closed all right. She takes a deep breath and turns towards the table. Jeanne has almost finished her brioche and is licking jam from her lips.
‘Here,’ she pushes a plate with a thick slice of brioche generously spread with butter and with a thick layer of jam dripping from its sides, towards her. ‘I made it for you.’
‘Thank you. Err… The ponies are out there,’ Taïga says. ‘They’re eating apples.’
The girls push back their chairs and crowd next to her.
‘Oh, no. Papy, Jupille has opened the gate again.’
Papy joins them by the window. Muttering something in French, he opens the backdoor and strides purposefully out onto the porch followed by the girls.
‘Attendez ici, les enfants.’
‘You have to approach calmly or you’ll spook them,’ Agnès explains as they watch the old man slowly advance towards the mischievous ponies. But it is as if they knew they had done something unauthorized. Taïga can feel their wariness, watching them look at the approaching man. Just when he reaches out for the little black one, it shies backwards and trots off a few paces, looking behind to see if Papy will follow.
‘Let’s help him.’ Agnès is already skipping down the few stairs and her friends follow her, excited about the diversion.
Jeanne sets after the skewbald pony and after a slight hesitation Taïga opts for the black one. Agnès follows her grandfather, running after the grey one.
‘Just grab the forelock to lead her back here, Taïga!’
Forelock? She doubts she’ll see the pony’s head at all.
They run after the ponies, herding them towards the gate held open by Agnès’s grandfather. Panting they watch the last one pass through and Papy latches the gate behind them.
‘I will have to fix a padlock,’ he mutters. He looks at the apples in the crate, picking out some the ponies had not gotten to. Apparently they had not had the time to make too much damage. Then he looks up at the girls. ‘Candy apples?’
‘Yay!’ They cheer, running back towards the house to clean up a little first.
Taïga leaves Agnès and Jeanne when dusk starts coloring the clouds pink. She thinks this was the best day ever since she started at St Simon’s, and next weekend will be even better, because Papy Pivert will fill in all the necessary forms to have her stay at his farm together with Agnès and Jeanne.
And best of all – she will maybe ride Jalouse.
That night she writes the first letter to Granny where she has not improved, nor tuned down, the truth.
“I’ve learned that the horses belong to Agnès grandfather, Monsieur Pinson, who breed them for show jumping competitions. Agnès is in my class, she’s OK and we hang out in school. I’d love to ask her if I could ride her pony Jalouse, but I don’t want to come across as needy…
… but everybody calls him Papy Pivert because he once had a tame woodpecker he had saved when it fell out of the nest. Pinson is also a bird, a chaffinch, so I guess it started out as a pun. Agnès remembers how it used to sit on her Papy’s shoulder when he rode his horses or worked in the orchard…
… Agnès grandfather has an enormous orchard with apple trees, cherries and plums. He makes cider and Eau de Vie, and donates apples to the village school and St Simon’s…
… and the cows in the neighboring field belong to the Meunier’s, they have a farm where they make milk and cheese. Monsieur Pivert borrows their sheep to tend the orchards. He says they are the most ecological grass mowers he knows of…
… but can you imagine that after his old companion Absinthe retired and got to spend his time grazing or sleeping under his favorite chestnut tree, Papy bought a tractor to replace him. A tractor! Absinthe was the old grey horse I had named King. Papy tells all kinds of stories about the old horse who passed away at the honorable age of 28…
… it is called “bio” because there are no chemical fertilizers and such. I guess it’s what we call organic farming…
… Agnès said, that before, he used chemicals, but it was too dangerous for the horses, so he stopped using them…”
Thank you so much for letting me spend the weekends with Agnès and Jeanne. So far I have slept in a sleeping bag in Agnès mother’s old room but Monsieur Pivert will fix a bed in time for next weekend…
… we help out with the vegetables and it reminds me of Bigwood Falls, in a happy way. There are tomatoes and potatoes and bellpepper and even watermelons. I will bring some home with me when I go home for summer vacation…
… Agnès Papy is kind but grumpy. He doesn’t like talking much – a part from about his orchard and his horses. He picks up up after we’ve finished watering the plants and drives us in his tractor to the fields where the horses are…
… Agnès and Jeanne bring their brushes and other things to clean up the ponies. Agnès’s box is pink and Jeanne’s is light blue. Agnès always wants to sit in the middle and when Jeanne is first up in the cart they argue about it…
… I close my eyes and try to guess where we are, relying on smells and how the cart twist and turn…”
The sun is already warmer now in May than it ever gets in Vulturu and both I and Jeanne are totally freckled. Poor Jeanne has to smear sunblock on all the time but she gets entirely red anyway…
… we have so much fun together and riding on a haybale in the little cart is so fun. It bounces along the road and over the fields and sometimes we have to hold on hard. But Agnès granddad always warns us beforehand so we don’t fall off…”
She doesn’t mention that they jump on and off while the tractor slowly advances, knowing Granny wouldn’t approve. Nor would Papy…
… always seem to get out of the enclosure. Jupille is so clever, but it is annoying at the same time…
… then we bring the ponies back to the stables where we brush them and clean out their hooves before tacking up. Jalouse loves being brushed, but she is a little tickly under her belly and if I turn my back to her she likes to pinch my butt…
… really scary, like she was a carnivore. Agnès told me they are called wolf teeth and they are like human wisdom teeth. Usually her Papy gets the veterinary to take them out, but apparently they don’t bother Jalouse, so they are still there…”
… Jalouse is so tiny it doesn’t scare me to fall off, even though it hurts quite a bit and it leaves you with some heavy bruising. Agnès says you have to get in the saddle at once and not let the fright get its grips into you, and she is right… Anyways, Jeanne says a good rider has fallen at least a hundred times and I think I will have before the summer vacation…
… we stay on the country lanes surrounding Monsieur Pivert’s farm and so far we have not seen a single car! But I know what to do if there is one coming, so don’t worry…”
… so we had our bathing suits on under our riding clothes and we followed the river. We crossed over on a medieval bridge and from there we could see all the way to where we were going to bath with the horses…
… left the saddles at a safe distance from the water under one of the many weeping willows, but we had to leave the bridles on, of course. It was nice to ride bareback, I think I prefer that to a saddle, but I soon found out it is safer with a saddle. When Mistral calmly walked into the water, Jalouse decided it was too cold, or whatever, and shied away, sending me sprawling! I can guarantee it was cold…”
… it’s hard to think about everything – the hands, the legs, the feet and what is called the seat and which is your whole body. You should be able to draw a straight line through your ear, shoulder, hip and heel. But I’m getting there. I’m doing my best to hold my hands still so I don’t jerk Jalouses mouth and I’m training on the staircases at school to keep my heels down at all times, pushing my heels down and keeping the balls of my feet on the stairs…”
… I can now do a posting trot which is easier than sitting “deep in the saddle”. Agnès laughs at me and Jeanne, saying we’re bouncing all over the place, but she must have forgotten how small steps the Shetland ponies take compared to her big one!
… Agnès told us we were going to gallop on the straight lane, and set off as soon as she had turned the corner out of the woods. Jalouse totally surprised me setting off too as soon as she saw Mistral gallop away, even though we were only halfway through the sharp bend around a big stone…
… she skipped the corner so fast it felt like she fell out under me in her haste to follow Mistral on the straight lane. But I didn’t fall off! I held on to her mane and just let her go for it. She is really fast but we didn’t catch up with Agnès and Mistral before the end of the lane anyway. She promised she’ll wait for us all to be on the straight lane next time! I must admit that I got a little scared, but that was before I got all excited about the speed. I can’t wait to gallop again!
… Jeanne complained the whole way, because Jupille just trotted faster and faster, refusing to fall into gallop and trotting that fast is really uncomfortable…”
… we had the whole road to ourselves so we galloped “calmly” along the fence when there was a sound of thunder and all the mares with their foals came running…
… overexcited! We went so fast and Jalouse bucked several times but I anticipated and held on.
I think Jeanne was a little jealous, even though this time she didn’t have to kick with her legs as much as usual. Even Jupille galloped, racing the horses on the other side of the fence…”
We pick up fresh milk from the Meunier’s farm. We bike there and the other day Monsieur Meunier showed us how to milk a cow. They have lots of modern stuff to get the milk and you just pop some automatic device onto the udders and it is real quick. However, this time he showed us the old way. I tried, but couldn’t get any milk out of the udder. Monsieur Meunier told me I could come back when I wanted, but I prefer Monsieur Pivert’s horses. And cows are scary, with their big horns…”
Agnès and Jeanne aren’t afraid – not as long as the horned animals stay in there stable… While Monsieur Meunier milks the cow, Taïga watches them try their best funny-faces on the cows.
‘First one to make a cow laugh wins!’ Jeanne says cockily, pulling out her tongue and waving her hands next to her ears.
The girls soon grow tired of making fun of the poor beasts who impassible continues ruminating. They have a try at milking with the same poor result as Taïga.
“… only Jeanne succeeded in withdrawing a few drops, and she told Monsieur Meunier she preferred the milk already in bottles. I think it was a little rude, but Monsieur Meunier just laughed.”
The cherries are ripe, and even though Monsieur Pivert doesn’t have the honor of sending his cherries to the president, they are certainly as tasty as the ones growing in Ceret in the south of France. We helped picking some, but we ate more than we picked.
My hands are still all red even though it’s been two days and we showered in the sprinkler in the backyard. Our ponies watched and even though Jeanne said they surely wanted to join us, I’m not so sure about Jalouse…
Monsieur Pivert has a big country kitchen, even bigger than in the Cove. There is an old table a little less big than the one in the dining room and the chairs aren’t the same. He doesn’t have a dishwasher so we help him do the dishes. It’s only fair. He tries to cook things we like so it’s the least we can do.
He makes the best pancakes! He puts apples in them and it is delicious. Then there’s salted butterscotch cream… Yummy! He’s so funny, but I think he will soon break the door to his fridge as he always closes it with his foot. Jeanne did the same thing the other day, and he told her off quite sharply…
… and he always forgets something. Like the bowl to make pancake batter in. He had everything ready, even a broken egg in his hands, but no bowl. Jeanne got him one, as she’s usually standing by his side waiting to help him cut the apples…
The first “crêpe” is always for Papy’s big red tabby, Auguste. Before, it was for the dog, but his hunting companion is long gone, as Papy uses to say…”
‘Crêpe spéciale à l’anchois!’ Papy calls out and Auguste jumps up onto the working space to lick the empty can. Papy tries to usher him down again, finally putting both cat and can on the floor.
Taïga throws a puzzled glance at Agnès. ‘Anchovy pancakes?’ she whispers, trying not to grimace.
Agnès whispers back, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not the same batter…’
‘Where is Minette?’ Jeanne asks. I haven’t seen her around for some time.’
Taïga vaguely remembers the fat calico cat that she had seen a few times when she first came to the farm.
‘Can I feed Auguste? Maybe Minette will show up when she hears the rustle.’
Jeanne grabs a sac with dry cat food and noisily fills the cats’ bowl. But Minette doesn’t show up. Even Auguste turns his nose up and returns purring around his master’s legs, waiting for the pancake he knows will soon be ready.
‘What is that?’ Taïga points to the glass jar on the table with something looking suspiciously like peanut butter inside.
‘Oh, that is salted butter fudge cream. Delicious to spread on the crêpes. It’s a specialty from Bretagne.’ Agnès licks her lips.
She opens the jar and sticks a spoon into it, swooping up a healthy click of sticky cream.
‘Want some?’ she jabs it in Jeanne’s direction and the sturdy girl shies away, holding her hands up to ward off the offending spoon.
‘Yuk! Take that away. It’s inedible,’ Jeanne states.
‘Just because you ate so much the last time that you were throwing up and couldn’t even ride the next day,’ Agnès snickers.
‘It was a “crise de foie”!’
Taïga knows what the French calls a bilious attack is just a severe indigestion. She laughs at her friends’ bickering, accepting the spoon to have a taste. Agnès was right. She can easily understand why Jeanne ate too much of the delicious cream.
Auguste devours his crêpes, and so do the girls. Papy has a secret, special ingredient and Taïga just hopes it’s not anchovy. He serves the girls straight from the pan. As soon as one crêpe is ready the girls’ plates are, too. Finally there is no more batter left and he joins the girls at the rustic kitchen table with a plate of his own, laden with crêpes topped with cream.
‘J’ai quelque chose à vous demander…’ he starts, peering at them with his pepper brown eyes.
‘Uhoh,’ Agnès frowns.
Taïga and Jeanne looks at each other. When Papy wants to ask them a question there is usually a chore in store.
Papy draws out a chair and sits heavily. ‘Une des juments n’a pas assez de lait, et peut-être vous aimeriez..?’
‘Oh oui, Papy!’ Thrilled, Agnès turns towards Taïga. ‘He wants us to bottle feed one of the foals!’
Taïga can’t believe her luck. ‘Bottle feed a real living baby horse! Wow!’
Papy entertains the girls with histories from his past while they wolf down the last crêpes.
As usual they pile onto the hay bales in the little cart attached to Papy’s tractor, but instead of bringing their usual gear, there’s a bottle ready with colostrum from one of the mares and a small leather halter. Papy explains that you can’t wait too long to halter break the foal, and if the girls want to take care of it it would be OK.
The tractor stops at the pasture, and the girls excitedly jump off. Papy gives them a last word of advice before the girls set off in search of the foal.
‘You lissen to Agnès, les filles. Elle sait comment faire.’
The foal and its mother come trotting when Papy shakes a bucket with food and while he puts a halter on Fleur des Champs, Agnès does the same to the foal. It is a little surprised, but doesn’t budge. Jeanne insists on leading it, but the foal has got enough of all these fancy new things happening to him and starts retracing his steps.
Jeanne doesn’t let go and both Agnès and Taïga can’t help laughing at the tug of war between the frightened foal and the stubborn girl. Monsieur Pivert calls out to them to stop or the foal will never accept a halter again.
Agnès shows them what to do and when it is Taïga’s turn, she is proud to lead the prancing foal. She even dares to run with him a little. It is not the same thing as leading Jalouse at all. Holding on firmly to the lead, it feels like the little horse will dance away if she lets go.
‘Mais c’est parfait, Papy! Let’s call him Danceur!’ Agnès exclaims.
Papy nods, walking fast next to Fleur, the foal’s mother, who is struggling against the lead to catch up with her son.
‘Danseur des Champs. I like very mush!’
They return to the fence where the tractor is parked and Agnès fetches the bottle. Taïga gets the honor to bottle feed the foal, as she has never done it before.
She holds on to the halter and takes a firm grip on the bottle as the foal pushes and tugs to get as much milk as possible. Fast.
‘Sooo… Steady now. Good boy!’
The moment is magical and Taïga beams. ‘I wish you were mine, you’re sooo beautiful…’
As soon as they take off the halters, both horses run off, kicking and bucking.
The girls play with the foal for a while, running and letting him catch up with them until they are out of breath and decide to join Papy who is patiently waiting for them on his tractor, reading the newspaper.
They have a shower before going downstairs for dinner. Taïga has gotten used to wash up fast, and is as usual first back to their room again. She is surprised to find Aguste standing in front of the old cupboard, sniffing and hissing. He jumps when Taïga pushes open the door and mews menacingly at her.
‘What’s the matter, Auguste?’ She advances slowly into the room, frowning at the red tabby’s unfamiliar behavior.
The cat scratches the old blue painted door, mewing and purring. There must be something inside – maybe a mouse. She flattens her ear against the worn surface and is rewarded by a cacophony of faint squeaks…
A couple of weeks later, Minette moves her kittens out of the linen cupboard and downstairs where Taïga and her friends have prepared a big basket lined with a soft blanket. There are six of them, all incredibly cute with fluffy fur and blue-grey eyes.
Agnès cuddles one of the kittens. ‘Je peux avoir un chaton, Papy? S’il te plait…’’
‘Bien sûr, ma chérie! You can ave all ov zem, on va tous les garder. Now, if you want crêpes, hmmm? Allez, ouste!’ He shoos a kitten away and almost trips over another on his way to fetch something in the fridge.
Papy retrieves a bottle of homemade cider. He holds it up and smiles.
‘Célébrons! Now we mussst celebrrrreit la naissance! Cidre forrr you all!’
Suddenly Jeanne cries out, ‘Monsieur Pivert! Les crêpes!’
‘Oh, mon Dieu! Les crêpes!’
Papy hurries back to the stove and turns the crêpe in the air, like a chef.
‘Crêpes pour tout le monde! Avec Chantilly…’
Taïga loves her weekends at Papy’s farm surrounded by her two friends and the animals. They allow her to put up with Clotilde and Louise’s scheming. She can’t help being a little jealous of Agnès who gets to keep all the kittens, but she knows she can play with and cuddle them every time she visits the farm. And who knows, maybe Miezul Nopţii will have a litter someday…
Part I – End of Chapter 49