“Yes, it is a truly strange tale,” said Gooseberry Sprig, the astute and keen duck detective, to his pal, Gustave Widgeon, as they sat at the broad window of the Millionaire Ducks’ Club, a strange weird tale.
“Forty years ago when Hen Berry, then a handsome youth of twenty, and full of that spirit which has since made him a great man, and deprived him of the goodly growth of hair, which was once his make-up, conceived the idea to elevate the social tone of the unpolished West.
“Hen ranked ace high as a maker of hats, and Bradstreets rated him A1, as Bellefontaine’s most prosperous and conservative merchant; his two-story Beavers were in use and in great demand by all the well-known bumboat pilots, and no man who claimed the slightest social prestige among the Ohio River Bottom aristocracy was without some specimen of Hen’s Au Fait dome garments.
“Bellefontaine society was considered depraved indeed when after a function it could not doff its tile and make merry with the bones or use its profound depths in the enthralling game of four, five, six. To this day Hen’s handy work may be recognized in and about Bellefontaine, gracing the conservatories of its most exclusive homes, harboring lace-like ferns or sprigs of scarlet geraniums.”
At this juncture Gooseberry Sprig paused and glancing, blase-eyed, around, spotted the waiter lounging within whispering distance, asked Gustave Widgeon what his favorite mixture was and ordered two of the same.
“One day,” he continued, “that thriving metropolis woke up to find its leading commercial light a departed actuality. After a long, mournful period it was in part relieved to hear that that, true to his ideals, he had established himself in the woolliest regions of the untamed West, to dispense social elevation in the form of tall beaver hats.”
Here the waiter handed out the refreshments, causing Gooseberry Sprig to make a bald-faced attempt to fumble in his pockets very nervous like, but Gustave beat him to it and paid the waiter.
“Strange, old chap, ” he murmured, “but I do believe I left my purse on my escritoire, y’know,” and doing a nifty bit of legerdemain work juggled half the drink into his system, picked his teeth and resumed his tale.
“Poor Hen, he started out like a jay bird after a June bug, and opened up his hattery with great and effusive demonstrations never equaled in the history of Weeping Wolf.
“The merriment waned after a couple of weeks, then Hen settled back to await the tide of high hat customers, and see his ideal dream, the social elevation of Weeping Wolf in actual progress.
“Husky miners would linger around Hen’s elaborate high hat display, then back off across the street, and do a little gun practice, by boring their initials in whatever hat that took their fancy, during which time Hen was behind the steel safe watching the chunks of lead, forty-five size, flattened up against the back wall.
“Hen was more than justifiably peeved when he was one day waited upon by a delegation of the Weeping Wolf Chowder Club, requesting the loan, mind you, the loan, of a few of his choicest dips, as tin cans were not then in use in Weeping Wolf, and the boys had to have something to do a little growler work with at the Chowder.
“Well, the boys got the hats, twelve of them, doing service to the tune of three hundred and ten growlers, before their bottoms dropped out.
“The honest miners returned the remains, and made Hen a member of the Weeping Wolf Chowder Club without dues.
“What with having uncouth miners steadfastly refusing to be socially elevated, and doing other little innocent tricks with his hattery, such as playing shinny with the best in the house, putting bricks under ten dollar beavers to have husky fall guys swat them with number nine hob-nailed boots, and using them to burn Greek fire in celebrative moments when somebody made a strike, ‘Hen’ grew pettish, and peevish, as Weeping Wolf grew redundant with joy, until one fatal day ‘Hen’ announced that the hattery and his lone stand for the social elevation of Weeping Wolf were no more, and that everything could wend its way to the dog pound, for all he cared.
“In this moment of his bereavement did Hen come to notice the friendly little weasel which had taken its abode in one of the now many empty hat boxes which adorned the shop. His misery was lightened when the little animal made friendly overtures of acquaintance.
“Hen aged rapidly, his wondrous growth of hair gradually forsook him, taking away his manly beauty, but adding an intellectual halo, as more and more of his classic dome was revealed.
“He became famed as old Hen the bald hat hermit of Weeping Wolf, and was one of the town’s Sunday attractions.
“One memorable day the weasel, as fool weasels will do, was inquisitive enough to investigate the hat-making machine, unknowingly it started, with an agonizing cry. Hen shouted warning, but alas, too late; all but his pet weasel’s tail hung out of the machine; removing it. Hen found his only friend beautifully molded into as nice a hat as ever was turned out, except that the hat had a tail.
“Cutting off the tail Hen made it into a band and the hat was completely weasel from crown to outermost rim.
“That night a few of Weeping Wolf’s late homers saw Hen beating it out of town, with the queerest concoction of a hat every seen in those parts.
“Weeping Wolf’s social inclinations were never elevated, and the hat business lost a good man for Hen never returned to it.
“Do you wonder now that when Hen trots out the old hat and some imbecile makes foney cracks about it, that his goat rambles? No, never. Hen has hired me, who can truly feel for him, to trail the monster to his lair, and believe me, thus the good work SHALL go on — for I am Gooseberry Sprig, the duck detective – and Hen is a pal of mine.”