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´╗┐Title: The Diary of a Goose Girl
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith, 1856-1923
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Diary of a Goose Girl" ***

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Transcribed from the 1902 Gay and Bird edition by David Price, email

{Book cover: cover.jpg}



THE DIARY OF A GOOSE GIRL


BY
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
CLAUDE A. SHEPPERSON

GAY AND BIRD
22 BEDFORD STREET, STRAND
LONDON
1902

{I looked about me with what Stevenson calls a 'fine dizzy, muddle-headed
job': p01.jpg}

TO THE HENS, DUCKS, AND GEESE
WHO SO KINDLY GAVE ME
SITTINGS FOR THESE
SKETCHES THE BOOK
IS GRATEFULLY
INSCRIBED



CHAPTER I.


{Thornycroft House: p1a.jpg}

THORNYCROFT FARM, near Barbury Green, July 1, 190-.

{Picture of woman and goose: p1b.jpg}

In alluding to myself as a Goose Girl, I am using only the most modest of
my titles; for I am also a poultry-maid, a tender of Belgian hares and
rabbits, and a shepherdess; but I particularly fancy the role of Goose
Girl, because it recalls the German fairy tales of my early youth, when I
always yearned, but never hoped, to be precisely what I now am.

As I was jolting along these charming Sussex roads the other day, a fat
buff pony and a tippy cart being my manner of progression, I chanced upon
the village of Barbury Green.

One glance was enough for any woman, who, having eyes to see, could see
with them; but I made assurance doubly sure by driving about a little,
struggling to conceal my new-born passion from the stable-boy who was my
escort.  Then, it being high noon of a cloudless day, I descended from
the trap and said to the astonished yokel: "You may go back to the
Hydropathic; I am spending a month or two here.  Wait a moment--I'll send
a message, please!"

I then scribbled a word or two to those having me in custody.

"I am very tired of people," the note ran, "and want to rest myself by
living a while with things.  Address me (if you must) at Barbury Green
post-office, or at all events send me a box of simple clothing
there--nothing but shirts and skirts, please.  I cannot forget that I am
only twenty miles from Oxenbridge (though it might be one hundred and
twenty, which is the reason I adore it), but I rely upon you to keep an
honourable distance yourselves, and not to divulge my place of retreat to
others, especially to--you know whom!  Do not pursue me.  I will never be
taken alive!"

Having cut, thus, the cable that bound me to civilisation, and having
seen the buff pony and the dazed yokel disappear in a cloud of dust, I
looked about me with what Stevenson calls a "fine, dizzy, muddle-headed
joy," the joy of a successful rebel or a liberated serf.  Plenty of money
in my purse--that was unromantic, of course, but it simplified
matters--and nine hours of daylight remaining in which to find a lodging.

{Life converges there, just at the public duck-pond: p3.jpg}

The village is one of the oldest, and I am sure it must be one of the
quaintest, in England.  It is too small to be printed on the map (an
honour that has spoiled more than one Arcadia), so pray do not look
there, but just believe in it, and some day you may be rewarded by
driving into it by chance, as I did, and feel the same Columbus thrill
running, like an electric current, through your veins.  I withhold
specific geographical information in order that you may not miss that
Columbus thrill, which comes too seldom in a world of railroads.

The Green is in the very centre of Barbury village, and all civic,
political, family, and social life converges there, just at the public
duck-pond--a wee, sleepy lake with a slope of grass-covered stones by
which the ducks descend for their swim.

The houses are set about the Green like those in a toy village.  They are
of old brick, with crumpled, up-and-down roofs of deep-toned red, and
tufts of stonecrop growing from the eaves.  Diamond-paned windows, half
open, admit the sweet summer air; and as for the gardens in front, it
would seem as if the inhabitants had nothing to do but work in them,
there is such a riotous profusion of colour and bloom.  To add to the
effect, there are always pots of flowers hanging from the trees, blue
flax and yellow myrtle; and cages of Java sparrows and canaries singing
joyously, as well they may in such a paradise.

{The houses are set about the Green: p5.jpg}

The shops are idyllic, too, as if Nature had seized even the man of trade
and made him subservient to her designs.  The general draper's, where I
fitted myself out for a day or two quite easily, is set back in a tangle
of poppies and sweet peas, Madonna lilies and Canterbury bells.  The shop
itself has a gay awning, and what do you think the draper has suspended
from it, just as a picturesque suggestion to the passer-by?  Suggestion I
call it, because I should blush to use the word advertisement in
describing anything so dainty and decorative.  Well, then, garlands of
shoes, if you please!  Baby bootlets of bronze; tiny ankle-ties in
yellow, blue, and scarlet kid; glossy patent-leather pumps shining in the
sun, with festoons of slippers at the corners, flowery slippers in
imitation Berlin wool-work.  If you make this picture in your mind's-eye,
just add a window above the awning, and over the fringe of marigolds in
the window-box put the draper's wife dancing a rosy-cheeked baby.  Alas!
my words are only black and white, I fear, and this picture needs a
palette drenched in primary colours.

Along the street, a short distance, is the old watchmaker's.  Set in the
hedge at the gate is a glass case with _Multum in Parvo_ painted on the
woodwork.  Within, a little stand of trinkets revolves slowly; as slowly,
I imagine, as the current of business in that quiet street.  The house
stands a trifle back and is covered thickly with ivy, while over the
entrance-door of the shop is a great round clock set in a green frame of
clustering vine.  The hands pointed to one when I passed the watchmaker's
garden with its thicket of fragrant lavender and its murmuring bees; so I
went in to the sign of the "Strong i' the Arm" for some cold luncheon,
determining to patronise "The Running Footman" at the very next
opportunity.  Neither of these inns is starred by Baedeker, and this fact
adds the last touch of enchantment to the picture.

The landlady at the "Strong i' the Arm" stabbed me in the heart by
telling me that there were no apartments to let in the village, and that
she had no private sitting-room in the inn; but she speedily healed the
wound by saying that I might be accommodated at one of the farm-houses in
the vicinity.  Did I object to a farm-'ouse?  Then she could cheerfully
recommend the Evan's farm, only 'alf a mile away.  She 'ad understood
from Miss Phoebe Evan, who sold her poultry, that they would take one
lady lodger if she didn't wish much waiting upon.

In my present mood I was in search of the strenuous life, and eager to
wait, rather than to be waited upon; so I walked along the edge of the
Green, wishing that some mentally unbalanced householder would take a
sudden fancy to me and ask me to come in and lodge awhile.  I suppose
these families live under their roofs of peach-blow tiles, in the midst
of their blooming gardens, for a guinea a week or thereabouts; yet if
they "undertook" me (to use their own phrase), the bill for my humble
meals and bed would be at least double that.  I don't know that I blame
them; one should have proper compensation for admitting a world-stained
lodger into such an Eden.

When I was searching for rooms a week ago, I chanced upon a pretty
cottage where the woman had sometimes let apartments.  She showed me the
premises and asked me if I would mind taking my meals in her own dining-
room, where I could be served privately at certain hours: and, since she
had but the one sitting-room, would I allow her to go on using it
occasionally? also, if I had no special preference, would I take the
second-sized bedroom and leave her in possession of the largest one,
which permitted her to have the baby's crib by her bedside?  She thought
I should be quite as comfortable, and it was her opinion that in making
arrangements with lodgers, it was a good plan not to "bryke up the 'ome
any more than was necessary."

"Bryke up the 'ome!"  That is seemingly the malignant purpose with which
I entered Barbury Green.



CHAPTER II


July 4th.

Enter the family of Thornycroft Farm, of which I am already a member in
good and regular standing.

I introduce Mrs. Heaven first, for she is a self-saturated person who
would never forgive the insult should she receive any lower place.

She welcomed me with the statement: "We do not take lodgers here, nor
boarders; no lodgers, nor boarders, but we do occasionally admit paying
guests, those who look as if they would appreciate the quietude of the
plyce and be willing as you might say to remunerate according."

{Mrs. Heaven: p10.jpg}

I did not mind at this particular juncture what I was called, so long as
the epithet was comparatively unobjectionable, so I am a paying guest,
therefore, and I expect to pay handsomely for the handsome appellation.
Mrs. Heaven is short and fat; she fills her dress as a pin-cushion fills
its cover; she wears a cap and apron, and she is so full of platitudes
that she would have burst had I not appeared as a providential outlet for
them.  Her accent is not of the farm, but of the town, and smacks wholly
of the marts of trade.  She is repetitious, too, as well as
platitudinous.  "I 'ope if there's anythink you require you will let us
know, let us know," she says several times each day; and whenever she
enters my sitting-room she prefaces her conversation with the remark: "I
trust you are finding it quiet here, miss?  It's the quietude of the
plyce that is its charm, yes, the quietude.  And yet" (she dribbles on)
"it wears on a body after a while, miss.  I often go into Woodmucket to
visit one of my sons just for the noise, simply for the noise, miss, for
nothink else in the world but the noise.  There's nothink like noise for
soothing nerves that is worn threadbare with the quietude, miss, or at
least that's my experience; and yet to a strynger the quietude of the
plyce is its charm, undoubtedly its chief charm; and that is what our
paying guests always say, although our charges are somewhat higher than
other plyces.  If there's anythink you require, miss, I 'ope you'll
mention it.  There is not a commodious assortment in Barbury Green, but
we can always send the pony to Woodmucket in case of urgency.  Our paying
guest last summer was a Mrs. Pollock, and she was by way of having sudden
fancies.  Young and unmarried though you are, miss, I think you will tyke
my meaning without my speaking plyner?  Well, at six o'clock of a rainy
afternoon, she was seized with an unaccountable desire for vegetable
marrows, and Mr. 'Eaven put the pony in the cart and went to Woodmucket
for them, which is a great advantage to be so near a town and yet 'ave
the quietude."

{Mr. Heaven: p11.jpg}

Mr. Heaven is merged, like Mr. Jellyby, in the more shining qualities of
his wife.  A line of description is too long for him.  Indeed, I can
think of no single word brief enough, at least in English.  The Latin
"nil" will do, since no language is rich in words of less than three
letters.  He is nice, kind, bald, timid, thin, and so colourless that he
can scarcely be discerned save in a strong light.  When Mrs. Heaven goes
out into the orchard in search of him, I can hardly help calling from my
window, "Bear a trifle to the right, Mrs. Heaven--now to the left--just
in front of you now--if you put out your hands you will touch him."

Phoebe, aged seventeen, is the daughter of the house.  She is virtuous,
industrious, conscientious, and singularly destitute of physical charm.
She is more than plain; she looks as if she had been planned without any
definite purpose in view, made of the wrong materials, been badly put
together, and never properly finished off; but "plain" after all is a
relative word.  Many a plain girl has been married for her beauty; and
now and then a beauty, falling under a cold eye, has been thought plain.

Phoebe has her compensations, for she is beloved by, and reciprocates the
passion of, the Woodmancote carrier, Woodmucket being the English manner
of pronouncing the place of his abode.  If he "carries" as energetically
for the great public as he fetches for Phoebe, then he must be a rising
and a prosperous man.  He brings her daily, wild strawberries, cherries,
birds' nests, peacock feathers, sea-shells, green hazel-nuts, samples of
hens' food, or bouquets of wilted field flowers tied together tightly and
held with a large, moist, loving hand.  He has fine curly hair of sandy
hue, which forms an aureole on his brow, and a reddish beard, which makes
another inverted aureole to match, round his chin.  One cannot look at
him, especially when the sun shines through him, without thinking how
lovely he would be if stuffed and set on wheels, with a little string to
drag him about.

{The Woodmancote carrier: p13.jpg}

Phoebe confided to me that she was on the eve of loving the postman when
the carrier came across her horizon.

"It doesn't do to be too hysty, does it, miss?" she asked me as we were
weeding the onion bed.  "I was to give the postman his answer on the
Monday night, and it was on the Monday morning that Mr. Gladwish made his
first trip here as carrier.  I may say I never wyvered from that moment,
and no more did he.  When I think how near I came to promising the
postman it gives me a turn."  (I can understand that, for I once met the
man I nearly promised years before to marry, and we both experienced such
a sense of relief at being free instead of bound that we came near
falling in love for sheer joy.)

{Picture of toy on wheels: p14.jpg}

The last and most important member of the household is the Square Baby.
His name is Albert Edward, and he is really five years old and no baby at
all; but his appearance on this planet was in the nature of a complete
surprise to all parties concerned, and he is spoiled accordingly.  He has
a square head and jaw, square shoulders, square hands and feet.  He is
red and white and solid and stolid and slow-witted, as the young of his
class commonly are, and will make a bulwark of the nation in course of
time, I should think; for England has to produce a few thousand such
square babies every year for use in the colonies and in the standing
army.  Albert Edward has already a military gait, and when he has
acquired a habit of obedience at all comparable with his power of
command, he will be able to take up the white man's burden with
distinguished success.  Meantime I can never look at him without
marvelling how the English climate can transmute bacon and eggs, tea and
the solid household loaf into such radiant roses and lilies as bloom upon
his cheeks and lips.



CHAPTER III


July 8th.

Thornycroft is by way of being a small poultry farm.

In reaching it from Barbury Green, you take the first left-hand road, go
till you drop, and there you are.

It reminds me of my "grandmother's farm at Older."  Did you know the song
when you were a child?--

   My grandmother had a very fine farm
      'Way down in the fields of Older.
         With a cluck-cluck here,
         And a cluck-cluck there,
         Here and there a cluck-cluck,
         Cluck-cluck here and there,
      Down in the fields at Older.

It goes on for ever by the simple subterfuge of changing a few words in
each verse.

   My grandmother had a very fine farm
      'Way down in the fields of Older.
         With a quack-quack here,
         And a quack-quack there,
         Here and there a quack-quack,
         Quack-quack here and there,
      Down in the fields at Older.

This is followed by the gobble-gobble, moo-moo, baa-baa, etc., as long as
the laureate's imagination and the infant's breath hold good.  The tune
is pretty, and I do not know, or did not, when I was young, a more
fascinating lyric.

{The sitting hens: p17.jpg}

Thornycroft House must have belonged to a country gentleman once upon a
time, or to more than one; men who built on a bit here and there once in
a hundred years, until finally we have this charmingly irregular and
dilapidated whole.  You go up three steps into Mrs. Heaven's room, down
two into mine, while Phoebe's is up in a sort of turret with long, narrow
lattices opening into the creepers.  There are crooked little
stair-cases, passages that branch off into other passages and lead
nowhere in particular; I can't think of a better house in which to play
hide and seek on a wet day.  In front, what was once, doubtless, a green,
is cut up into greens; to wit, a vegetable garden, where the onions,
turnips, and potatoes grow cosily up to the very door-sill; the
utilitarian aspect of it all being varied by some scarlet-runners and a
scattering of poppies on either side of the path.

The Belgian hares have their habitation in a corner fifty feet distant;
one large enclosure for poultry lies just outside the sweetbrier hedge;
the others, with all the houses and coops, are in the meadow at the back,
where also our tumbler pigeons are kept.

Phoebe attends to the poultry; it is her department.  Mr. Heaven has
neither the force nor the _finesse_ required, and the gentle reader who
thinks these qualities unneeded in so humble a calling has only to spend
a few days at Thornycroft to be convinced.  Mrs. Heaven would be of use,
but she is dressing the Square Baby in the morning and putting him to bed
at night just at the hours when the feathered young things are undergoing
the same operation.

A Goose Girl, like a poet, is sometimes born, sometimes otherwise.  I am
of the born variety.  No training was necessary; I put my head on my
pillow as a complicated product of modern civilisation on a Tuesday
night, and on a Wednesday morning I awoke as a Goose Girl.

{Hens . . . go to bed at a virtuous hour: p19.jpg}

My destiny slumbered during the day, but at eight o'clock I heard a
terrific squawking in the direction of the duck-ponds, and, aimlessly
drifting in that direction, I came upon Phoebe trying to induce ducks and
drakes, geese and ganders, to retire for the night.  They have to be
driven into enclosures behind fences of wire netting, fastened into
little rat-proof boxes, or shut into separate coops, so as to be safe
from their natural enemies, the rats and foxes; which, obeying, I
suppose, the law of supply and demand, abound in this neighbourhood.  The
old ganders are allowed their liberty, being of such age, discretion,
sagacity, and pugnacity that they can be trusted to fight their own
battles.

{Ducks and geese . . . would roam the streets till morning: p20.jpg}

The intelligence of hens, though modest, is of such an order that it
prompts them to go to bed at a virtuous hour of their own accord; but
ducks and geese have to be materially assisted, or I believe they would
roam till morning.  Never did small boy detest and resist being carried
off to his nursery as these dullards, young and old, detest and resist
being driven to theirs.  Whether they suffer from insomnia, or nightmare,
or whether they simply prefer the sweet air of liberty (and death) to the
odour of captivity and the coop, I have no means of knowing.

{The pole was not long enough: p21.jpg}

Phoebe stood by one of the duck-ponds, a long pole in her hand, and a
helpless expression in that doughlike countenance of hers, where aimless
contours and features unite to make a kind of facial blur.  (What does
the carrier see in it?)  The pole was not long enough to reach the ducks,
and Phoebe's method lacked spirit and adroitness, so that it was natural,
perhaps, that they refused to leave the water, the evening being warm,
with an uncommon fine sunset.

{They . . . waddle under the wrong fence: p22.jpg}

I saw the situation at once and ran to meet it with a glow of interest
and anticipation.  If there is anything in the world I enjoy, it is
making somebody do something that he doesn't want to do; and if, when
victory perches upon my banner, the somebody can be brought to say that
he ought to have done it without my making him, that adds the
unforgettable touch to pleasure, though seldom, alas! does it happen.
Then ensued the delightful and stimulating hour that has now become a
feature of the day; an hour in which the remembrance of the table-d'hote
dinner at the Hydro, going on at identically the same time, only stirs me
to a keener joy and gratitude.

{Honking and hissing like a bewildered orchestra: p23.jpg}

{Harried and pecked by the big geese: p24.jpg}

The ducks swim round in circles, hide under the willows, and attempt to
creep into the rat-holes in the banks, a stupidity so crass that it
merits instant death, which it somehow always escapes.  Then they come
out in couples and waddle under the wrong fence into the lower meadow,
fly madly under the tool-house, pitch blindly in with the sitting hens,
and out again in short order, all the time quacking and squawking,
honking and hissing like a bewildered orchestra.  By dint of splashing
the water with poles, throwing pebbles, beating the shrubs at the pond's
edges, "shooing" frantically with our skirts, crawling beneath bars to
head them off, and prodding them from under bushes to urge them on, we
finally get the older ones out of the water and the younger ones into
some sort of relation to their various retreats; but, owing to their lack
of geography, hatred of home, and general recalcitrancy, they none of
them turn up in the right place and have to be sorted out.  We uncover
the top of the little house, or the enclosure as it may be, or reach in
at the door, and, seizing the struggling victim, drag him forth and take
him where he should have had the wit to go in the first instance.  The
weak ones get in with the strong and are in danger of being trampled; two
May goslings that look almost full-grown have run into a house with a
brood of ducklings a week old.  There are twenty-seven crowded into one
coop, five in another, nineteen in another; the gosling with one leg has
to come out, and the duckling threatened with the gapes; their place is
with the "invaleeds," as Phoebe calls them, but they never learn the
location of the hospital, nor have the slightest scruple about spreading
contagious diseases.

{In solitary splendour: p25.jpg}

Finally, when we have separated and sorted exhaustively, an operation in
which Phoebe shows a delicacy of discrimination and a fearlessness of
attack amounting to genius, we count the entire number and find several
missing.  Searching for their animate or inanimate bodies, we "scoop" one
from under the tool-house, chance upon two more who are being harried and
pecked by the big geese in the lower meadow, and discover one sailing by
himself in solitary splendour in the middle of the deserted pond, a look
of evil triumph in his bead-like eye.  Still we lack one young duckling,
and he at length is found dead by the hedge.  A rat has evidently seized
him and choked him at a single throttle, but in such haste that he has
not had time to carry away the tiny body.

"Poor think!" says Phoebe tearfully; "it looks as if it was 'it with some
kind of a wepping.  I don't know whatever to do with the rats, they're
gettin' that fearocious!"

Before I was admitted into daily contact with the living goose (my
previous intercourse with him having been carried on when gravy and
stuffing obscured his true personality), I thought him a very Dreyfus
among fowls, a sorely slandered bird, to whom justice had never been
done; for even the gentle Darwin is hard upon him.  My opinion is
undergoing some slight modifications, but I withhold judgment at present,
hoping that some of the follies, faults, vagaries, and limitations that I
observe in Phoebe's geese may be due to Phoebe's educational methods,
which were, before my advent, those of the darkest ages.



CHAPTER IV


{Dryshod warnings which are never heeded: p27.jpg}

July 9th.

By the time the ducks and geese are incarcerated for the night, the
reasonable, sensible, practical-minded hens--especially those whose
mentality is increased and whose virtue is heightened by the
responsibilities of motherhood--have gone into their own particular rat-
proof boxes, where they are waiting in a semi-somnolent state to have the
wire doors closed, the bricks set against them, and the bits of sacking
flung over the tops to keep out the draught.  We have a great many young
families, both ducklings and chicks, but we have no duck mothers at
present.  The variety of bird which Phoebe seems to have bred during the
past year may be called the New Duck, with certain radical ideas about
woman's sphere.  What will happen to Thornycroft if we develop a New Hen
and a New Cow, my imagination fails to conceive.  There does not seem to
be the slightest danger for the moment, however, and our hens lay and sit
and sit and lay as if laying and sitting were the twin purposes of life.

{The mother goes off to bed: p28.jpg}

The nature of the hen seems to broaden with the duties of maternity, but
I think myself that we presume a little upon her amiability and natural
motherliness.  It is one thing to desire a family of one's own, to lay
eggs with that idea in view, to sit upon them three long weeks and hatch
out and bring up a nice brood of chicks.  It must be quite another to
have one's eggs abstracted day by day and eaten by a callous public, the
nest filled with deceitful substitutes, and at the end of a dull and
weary period of hatching to bring into the world another person's
children--children, too, of the wrong size, the wrong kind of bills and
feet, and, still more subtle grievance, the wrong kind of instincts,
leading them to a dangerous aquatic career, one which the mother may not
enter to guide, guard, and teach; one on the brink of which she must ever
stand, uttering dryshod warnings which are never heeded.  They grow used
to this strange order of things after a bit, it is true, and are less
anxious and excited.  When the duck-brood returns safely again and again
from what the hen-mother thinks will prove a watery grave, she becomes
accustomed to the situation, I suppose.  I find that at night she stands
by the pond for what she considers a decent, self-respecting length of
time, calling the ducklings out of the water; then, if they refuse to
come, the mother goes off to bed and leaves them to Providence, or Phoebe.

{Cornelia and the web-footed Gracchi: p29.jpg}

The brown hen that we have named Cornelia is the best mother, the one who
waits longest and most patiently for the web-footed Gracchi to finish
their swim.

When a chick is taken out of the incubytor (as Phoebe calls it) and
refused by all the other hens, Cornelia generally accepts it, though she
had twelve of her own when we began using her as an orphan asylum.  "Wings
are made to stretch," she seems to say cheerfully, and with a kind glance
of her round eye she welcomes the wanderer and the outcast.  She even
tended for a time the offspring of an absent-minded, light-headed
pheasant who flew over a four-foot wall and left her young behind her to
starve; it was not a New Pheasant, either; for the most conservative and
old-fashioned of her tribe occasionally commits domestic solecisms of
this sort.

{An orphan asylum: p30.jpg}

There is no telling when, where, or how the maternal instinct will assert
itself.  Among our Thornycroft cats is a certain Mrs. Greyskin.  She had
not been seen for many days, and Mrs. Heaven concluded that she had
hidden herself somewhere with a family of kittens; but as the supply of
that article with us more than equals the demand, we had not searched for
her with especial zeal.

{Phoebe and I followed her stealthily: p31.jpg}

The other day Mrs. Greyskin appeared at the dairy door, and when she had
been fed Phoebe and I followed her stealthily, from a distance.  She
walked slowly about as if her mind were quite free from harassing care,
and finally approached a deserted cow-house where there was a great mound
of straw.  At this moment she caught sight of us and turned in another
direction to throw us off the scent.  We persevered in our intention of
going into her probable retreat, and were cautiously looking for some
sign of life in the haymow, when we heard a soft cackle and a ruffling of
plumage.  Coming closer to the sound we saw a black hen brooding a nest,
her bright bead eyes turning nervously from side to side; and, coaxed out
from her protecting wings by youthful curiosity, came four kittens, eyes
wide open, warm, happy, ready for sport!

The sight was irresistible, and Phoebe ran for Mr. and Mrs. Heaven and
the Square Baby.  Mother Hen was not to be embarrassed or daunted, even
if her most sacred feelings were regarded in the light of a cheap
entertainment.  She held her ground while one of the kits slid up and
down her glossy back, and two others, more timid, crept underneath her
breast, only daring to put out their pink noses!  We retired then for
very shame and met Mrs. Greyskin in the doorway.  This should have
thickened the plot, but there is apparently no rivalry nor animosity
between the co-mothers.  We watch them every day now, through a window in
the roof.  Mother Greyskin visits the kittens frequently, lies down
beside the home nest, and gives them their dinner.  While this is going
on Mother Blackwing goes modestly away for a bite, a sup, and a little
exercise, returning to the kittens when the cat leaves them.  It is
pretty to see her settle down over the four, fat, furry dumplings, and
they seem to know no difference in warmth or comfort, whichever mother is
brooding them; while, as their eyes have been open for a week, it can no
longer be called a blind error on their part.

{Coaxed out . . . by youthful curiosity: p33.jpg}

When we have closed all our small hen-nurseries for the night, there is
still the large house inhabited by the thirty-two full-grown chickens
which Phoebe calls the broilers.  I cannot endure the term, and will not
use it.  "Now for the April chicks," I say every evening.

"Do you mean the broilers?" asks Phoebe.

"I mean the big April chicks," say I.

"Yes, them are the broilers," says she.

But is it not disagreeable enough to be a broiler when one's time comes,
without having the gridiron waved in one's face for weeks beforehand?

{Nine huddle together: p34.jpg}

The April chicks are all lively and desirous of seeing the world as
thoroughly as possible before going to roost or broil.  As a general
thing, we find in the large house sixteen young fowls of the
contemplative, flavourless, resigned-to-the-inevitable variety; three
more (the same three every night) perch on the roof and are driven down;
four (always the same four) cling to the edge of the open door, waiting
to fly off, but not in, when you attempt to close it; nine huddle
together on a place in the grass about forty feet distant, where a small
coop formerly stood in the prehistoric ages.  This small coop was one in
which they lodged for a fortnight when they were younger, and when those
absolutely indelible impressions are formed of which we read in
educational maxims.  It was taken away long since, but the nine loyal (or
stupid) Casabiancas cling to the sacred spot where its foundations
rested; they accordingly have to be caught and deposited bodily in the
house, and this requires strategy, as they note our approach from a
considerable distance.

{Of a wandering mind: p35.jpg}

Finally all are housed but two, the little white cock and the black
pullet, who are still impish and of a wandering mind.  Though headed off
in every direction, they fly into the hedges and hide in the underbrush.
We beat the hedge on the other side, but with no avail.  We dive into the
thicket of wild roses, sweetbrier, and thistles on our hands and knees,
coming out with tangled hair, scratched noses, and no hens.  Then, when
all has been done that human ingenuity can suggest, Phoebe goes to her
late supper and I do sentry-work.  I stroll to a safe distance, and,
sitting on one of the rat-proof boxes, watch the bushes with an eagle
eye.  Five minutes go by, ten, fifteen; and then out steps the white
cock, stealthily tiptoeing toward the home into which he refused to go at
our instigation.  In a moment out creeps the obstinate little beast of a
black pullet from the opposite clump.  The wayward pair meet at their own
door, which I have left open a few inches.  When all is still I walk
gently down the field, and, warned by previous experiences, approach the
house from behind.  I draw the door to softly and quickly; but not so
quickly that the evil-minded and suspicious black pullet hasn't time to
spring out, with a make-believe squawk of fright--that induces three
other blameless chickens to fly down from their perches and set the whole
flock in a flutter.  Then I fall from grace and call her a Broiler; and
when, after some minutes of hot pursuit, I catch her by falling over her
in the corner by the goose-pen, I address her as a fat, juicy Broiler
with parsley butter and a bit of bacon.

{With tangled hair, scratched noses, and no hens: p36.jpg}



CHAPTER V


July 10th.

At ten thirty or so in the morning the cackling begins.  I wonder exactly
what it means!  Have the forest-lovers who listen so respectfully to, and
interpret so exquisitely, the notes of birds--have none of them made
psychological investigations of the hen cackle?  Can it be simple
elation?  One could believe that of the first few eggs, but a hen who has
laid two or three hundred can hardly feel the same exuberant pride and
joy daily.  Can it be the excitement incident to successful achievement?
Hardly, because the task is so extremely simple.  Eggs are more or less
alike; a little larger or smaller, a trifle whiter or browner; and almost
sure to be quite right as to details; that is, the big end never gets
confused with the little end, they are always ovoid and never spherical,
and the yolk is always inside of the white.  As for a soft-shelled egg,
it is so rare an occurrence that the fear of laying one could not set the
whole race of hens in a panic; so there really cannot be any intellectual
or emotional agitation in producing a thing that might be made by a
machine.  Can it be simply "fussiness"; since the people who have the
least to do commonly make the most flutter about doing it?

Perhaps it is merely conversation.  "_Cut-cut-cut-cut-cut_-DAH_cut_! . . .
I have finished my strictly fresh egg, have you laid yours?  Make
haste, then, for the cock has found a gap in the wire-fence and wants us
to wander in the strawberry-bed. . . . Cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-DAH_cut_ . . .
Every moment is precious, for the Goose Girl will find us, when she
gathers the strawberries for her luncheon . . . Cut-cut-cut-cut!  On the
way out we can find sweet places to steal nests . . . Cut-cut-cut! . . .
I am so glad I am not sitting this heavenly morning; it _is_ a dull
life."

A Lancashire poultryman drifted into Barbury Green yesterday.  He is an
old acquaintance of Mr. Heaven, and spent the night and part of the next
day at Thornycroft Farm.  He possessed a deal of fowl philosophy, and
tells many a good hen story, which, like fish stories, draw rather
largely on the credulity of the audience.  We were sitting in the
rickyard talking comfortably about laying and cackling and kindred
matters when he took his pipe from his mouth and told us the following
tale--not a bad one if you can translate the dialect:--

'Aw were once towd as, if yo' could only get th' hen's egg away afooar
she hed sin it, th' hen 'ud think it hed med a mistek an' sit deawn
ageean an' lay another.

"An' it seemed to me it were a varra sensible way o' lukkin' at it.  Sooa
aw set to wark to mek a nest as 'ud tek a rise eawt o' th' hens.  An' aw
dud it too.  Aw med a nest wi' a fause bottom, th' idea bein' as when a
hen hed laid, th' egg 'ud drop through into a box underneyth.

"Aw felt varra preawd o' that nest, too, aw con tell yo', an' aw remember
aw felt quite excited when aw see an awd black Minorca, th' best layer as
aw hed, gooa an' settle hersel deawn i' th' nest an' get ready for wark.
Th' hen seemed quite comfortable enough, aw were glad to see, an' geet
through th' operation beawt ony seemin' trouble.

"Well, aw darsay yo' know heaw a hen carries on as soon as it's laid a
egg.  It starts "chuckin'" away like a showman's racket, an' after
tekkin' a good Ink at th' egg to see whether it's a big 'un or a little
'un, gooas eawt an' tells all t'other hens abeawt it.

"Neaw, this black Minorca, as aw sed, were a owdish bird, an' maybe knew
mooar than aw thowt.  Happen it hed laid on a nest wi' a fause bottom
afooar, an' were up to th' trick, but whether or not, aw never see a hen
luk mooar disgusted i' mi life when it lukked i' th' nest an' see as it
hed hed all that trouble fer nowt.

"It woked reawnd th' nest as if it couldn't believe its own eyes.

"But it dudn't do as aw expected.  Aw expected as it 'ud sit deawn ageean
an' lay another.

"But it just gi'e one wonderin' sooart o' chuck, an then, after a long
stare reawnd th' hen-coyt, it woked eawt, as mad a hen as aw've ever sin.
Aw fun' eawt after, what th' long stare meant.  It were tekkin' farewell!
For if yo'll believe me that hen never laid another egg i' ony o' my
nests.

"Varra like it laid away in a spot wheear it could hev summat to luk at
when it hed done wark for th' day.

"Sooa aw lost mi best layer through mi actin', an' aw've never invented
owt sen."



CHAPTER VI


One learns to be modest by living on a poultry farm, for there are
constant expositions of the most deplorable vanity among the cocks.  We
have a couple of pea-fowl who certainly are an addition to the landscape,
as they step mincingly along the square of turf we dignify by the name of
lawn.  The head of the house has a most languid and self-conscious strut,
and his microscopic mind is fixed entirely on his splendid trailing tail.
If I could only master his language sufficiently to tell him how
hideously ugly the back view of this gorgeous fan is, when he spreads it
for the edification of the observer in front of him, he would of course
retort that there is a "congregation side" to everything, but I should at
least force him into a defence of his tail and a confession of its
limitations.  This would be new and unpleasant, I fancy; and if it
produced no perceptible effect upon his super-arrogant demeanour, I might
remind him that he is likely to be used, eventually, for a feather
duster, unless, indeed, the Heavens are superstitious and prefer to throw
his tail away, rather than bring ill luck and the evil eye into the
house.

{More pride of bearing, and less to be proud of: p43.jpg}

The longer I study the cock, whether Black Spanish, White Leghorn,
Dorking, or the common barnyard fowl, the more intimately I am acquainted
with him, the less I am impressed with his character.  He has more pride
of bearing, and less to be proud of, than any bird I know.  He is
indolent, though he struts pompously over the grass as if the day were
all too short for his onerous duties.  He calls the hens about him when I
throw corn from the basket, but many a time I have seen him swallow
hurriedly, and in private, some dainty titbit he has found unexpectedly.
He has no particular chivalry.  He gives no special encouragement to his
hen when he becomes a prospective father, and renders little assistance
when the responsibilities become actualities.  His only personal message
or contribution to the world is his raucous cock-a-doodle-doo, which,
being uttered most frequently at dawn, is the most ill-timed and
offensive of all musical notes.  It is so unnecessary too, as if the day
didn't come soon enough without his warning; but I suppose he is anxious
to waken his hens and get them at their daily task, and so he disturbs
the entire community.  In short, I dislike him; his swagger, his
autocratic strut, his greed, his irritating self-consciousness, his
endless parading of himself up and down in a procession of one.

Of course his character is largely the result of polygamy.  His
weaknesses are only what might be expected; and as for the hens, I have
considerable respect for the patience, sobriety, and dignity with which
they endure an institution particularly offensive to all women.  In their
case they do not even have the sustaining thought of its being an article
of religion, so they are to be complimented the more.

There is nothing on earth so feminine as a hen--not womanly, simply
feminine.  Those men of insight who write the Woman's Page in the Sunday
newspapers study hens more than women, I sometimes think; at any rate,
their favourite types are all present on this poultry farm.

Some families of White Leghorns spend most of their time in the rickyard,
where they look extremely pretty, their slender white shapes and red
combs and wattles well set off by the background of golden hayricks.
There is a great oak-tree in one corner, with a tall ladder leaning
against its trunk, and a capital roosting-place on a long branch running
at right angles with the ladder.  I try to spend a quarter of an hour
there every night before supper, just for the pleasure of seeing the
feathered "women-folks" mount that ladder.

A dozen of them surround the foot, waiting restlessly for their turn.  One
little white lady flutters up on the lowest round and perches there until
she reviews the past, faces the present, and forecasts the future; during
which time she is gathering courage for the next jump.  She cackles,
takes up one foot and then the other, tilts back and forth, holds up her
skirts and drops them again, cocks her head nervously to see whether they
are all staring at her below, gives half a dozen preliminary springs
which mean nothing, declares she can't and won't go up any faster, unties
her bonnet strings and pushes back her hair, pulls down her dress to
cover her toes, and finally alights on the next round, swaying to and fro
until she gains her equilibrium, when she proceeds to enact the same
scene over again.

All this time the hens at the foot of the ladder are criticising her
methods and exclaiming at the length of time she requires in mounting;
while the cocks stroll about the yard keeping one eye on the ladder,
picking up a seed here and there, and giving a masculine sneer now and
then at the too-familiar scene.  They approach the party at intervals,
but only to remark that it always makes a man laugh to see a woman go up
a ladder.  The next hen, stirred to the depths by this speech, flies up
entirely too fast, loses her head, tumbles off the top round, and has to
make the ascent over again.  Thus it goes on and on, this _petite comedie
humaine_, and I could enjoy it with my whole heart if Mr. Heaven did not
insist on sharing the spectacle with me.  He is so inexpressibly dull, so
destitute of humour, that I did not think it likely he would see in the
performance anything more than a flock of hens going up a ladder to
roost.  But he did; for there is no man so blind that he cannot see the
follies of women; and, when he forgot himself so far as to utter a few
genial, silly, well-worn reflections upon femininity at large, I turned
upon him and revealed to him some of the characteristics of his own sex,
gained from an exhaustive study of the barnyard fowl of the masculine
gender.  He went into the house discomfited, though chuckling a little at
my vehemence; but at least I have made it for ever impossible for him to
watch his hens without an occasional glance at the cocks.

{Mr. Heaven discomfited: p46.jpg}



CHAPTER VII


July 12th.

O the pathos of a poultry farm!  Catherine of Aragon, the black Spanish
hen that stole her nest, brought out nine chicks this morning, and the
business-like and marble-hearted Phoebe has taken them away and given
them to another hen who has only seven.  Two mothers cannot be wasted on
these small families--it would not be profitable; and the older mother,
having been tried and found faithful over seven, has been given the other
nine and accepted them.  What of the bereft one?  She is miserable and
stands about moping and forlorn, but it is no use fighting against the
inevitable; hens' hearts must obey the same laws that govern the rotation
of crops.  Catherine of Aragon feels her lot a bitter one just now, but
in time she will succumb, and lay, which is more to the point.

We have had a very busy evening, beginning with the rats' supper--delicate
sandwiches of bread-and-butter spread with Paris green.

We have a new brood of seventeen ducklings just hatched this afternoon.
When we came to the nest the yellow and brown bunches of down and fluff
were peeping out from under the hen's wings in the prettiest fashion in
the world.

"It's a noble hen!" I said to Phoebe.

"She ain't so nowble as she looks," Phoebe answered grimly.  "It was
another 'en that brooded these eggs for near on three weeks and then this
big one come along with a fancy she'd like a family 'erself if she could
steal one without too much trouble; so she drove the rightful 'en off the
nest, finished up the last few days, and 'ere she is in possession of the
ducklings!"

"Why don't you take them away from her and give them back to the first
hen, who did most of the work?" I asked, with some spirit.

"Like as not she wouldn't tyke them now," said Phoebe, as she lifted the
hen off the broken egg-shells and moved her gently into a clean box, on a
bed of fresh hay.  We put food and drink within reach of the family, and
very proud and handsome that highway robber of a hen looked, as she
stretched her wings over the seventeen easily-earned ducklings.

Going back to the old nesting-box, I found one egg forgotten among the
shells.  It was still warm, and I took it up to run across the field with
it to Phoebe.  It was heavy, and the carrying of it was a queer
sensation, inasmuch as it squirmed and "yipped" vociferously in transit,
threatening so unmistakably to hatch in my hand that I was decidedly
nervous.  The intrepid little youngster burst his shell as he touched
Phoebe's apron, and has become the strongest and handsomest of the brood.

All this tending of downy young things, this feeding and putting to bed,
this petting and nursing and rearing, is such pretty, comforting woman's
work.  I am sure Phoebe will make a better wife to the carrier for having
been a poultry-maid, and though good enough for most practical purposes
when I came here, I am an infinitely better woman now.  I am afraid I was
not particularly nice the last few days at the Hydro.  Such a lot of
dull, prosy, inquisitive, bothering old tabbies!  Aunt Margaret
furnishing imaginary symptoms enough to keep a fond husband and two
trained nurses distracted; a man I had never encouraged in my life coming
to stay in the neighbourhood and turning up daily for rejection; another
man taking rooms at the very hotel with the avowed purpose of making my
life a burden; and on the heels of both, a widow of thirty-five in full
chase!  Small wonder I thought it more dignified to retire than to
compete, and so I did.

I need not, however, have cut the threads that bound me to Oxenbridge
with such particularly sharp scissors, nor given them such a vicious
snap; for, so far as I can observe, the little world of which I imagined
myself the sun continues to revolve, and, probably, about some other
centre.  I can well imagine who has taken up that delightful but somewhat
exposed and responsible position--it would be just like her!

{Threatened . . . to hatch in my hand: p51.jpg}

I am perfectly happy where I am; it is not that; but it seems so strange
that they can be perfectly happy without me, after all that they--after
all that was said on the subject not many days ago.  Nothing turns out as
one expects.  There have been no hot pursuits, no rewards offered, no
bills posted, no printed placards issued describing the beauty and charms
of a young person who supposed herself the cynosure of every eye.  Heigh-
ho!  What does it matter, after all?  One can always be a Goose Girl!

* * * * *

I wonder if the hen mother is quite, quite satisfied with her ducklings!
Do you suppose the fact of hatching and brooding them breaks down all the
sense of difference?  Does she not sometimes reflect that if her children
were the ordinary sort, and not these changelings, she would be enjoying
certain pretty little attentions dear to a mother's heart?  The chicks
would be pecking the food off her broad beak with their tiny ones, and
jumping on her back to slide down her glossy feathers.  They would be far
nicer to cuddle, too, so small and graceful and light; the changelings
are a trifle solid and brawny.  And personally, just as a matter of
taste, would she not prefer wee, round, glancing heads, and pointed
beaks, peeping from under her wings, to these teaspoon-shaped things
larger than her own?  I wonder!

We are training fourteen large young chickens to sit on the perches in
their new house, instead of huddling together on the floor as has been
their habit, because we discover rat-holes under the wire flooring
occasionally, and fear that toes may be bitten.  At nine o'clock Phoebe
and I lift the chickens one by one, and, as it were, glue them to their
perches, squawking.  Three nights have we gone patiently through with
this performance, but they have not learned the lesson.  The ducks and
geese are, however, greatly improved by the application of advanced
educational methods, and the _regime_ of perfect order and system
instituted by Me begins to show results.

{One can always be a Goose Girl: p53.jpg}

There is no more violent splashing and pebbling, racing, chasing,
separating.  The pole, indeed, still has to be produced, but at the first
majestic wave of my hand they scuttle toward the shore.  The geese turn
to the right, cross the rickyard, and go to their pen; the May ducks turn
to the left for their coops, the June ducks follow the hens to the top
meadow, and even the idiot gosling has an inspiration now and then and
stumbles on his own habitation.

{The geese . . . cross the rickyard: p54.jpg}

Mrs. Heaven has no reverence for the principles of Comenius, Pestalozzi,
or Herbert Spencer as applied to poultry, and when the ducks and geese
came out of the pond badly the other night and went waddling and tumbling
and hissing all over creation, did not approve of my sending them back
into the pond to start afresh.

"I consider it a great waste of time, of good time, miss," she said;
"and, after all, do you consider that educated poultry will be any better
eating, or that it will lay more than one egg a day, miss?"

I have given the matter some attention, and I fear Mrs. Heaven is right.
A duck, a goose, or a hen in which I have developed a larger brain,
implanted a sense of duty, or instilled an idea of self-government, is
likely, on the whole, to be leaner, not fatter.  There is nothing like
obeying the voice of conscience for taking the flesh off one's bones;
and, speaking of conscience, Phoebe, whose metaphysics are of the farm
farmy, says that hers "felt like a hunlaid hegg for dyes" after she had
jilted the postman.

As to the eggs, I am sure the birds will go on laying one a day for 'tis
their nature to.  Whether the product of the intelligent, conscious,
logical fowl, will be as rich in quality as that of the uneducated and
barbaric bird, I cannot say; but it ought at least to be equal to the
Denmark egg eaten now by all Londoners; and if, perchance, left uneaten,
it is certain to be a very superior wife and mother.

While we are discussing the subject of educating poultry, I confess that
the case of Cannibal Ann gives me much anxiety.  Twice in her short
career has she been under suspicion of eating her own eggs, but Phoebe
has never succeeded in catching her _in flagrante delicto_.  That eminent
detective service was reserved for me, and I have been haunted by the
picture ever since.  It is an awful sight to witness a hen gulp her own
newly-laid fresh egg, yolk, white, shell, and all; to realise that you
have fed, sheltered, chased, and occasionally run in, a being possessed
of no moral sense, a being likely to set a bad example, inculcate vicious
habits among her innocent sisters, and lower the standard of an entire
poultry-yard.  _The Young Poultry Keeper's Friend_ gives us no advice on
this topic, and we do not know whether to treat Cannibal Ann as the
victim of a disease, or as a confirmed criminal; whether to administer
remedies or cut her off in the flower of her youth.

{Poor little chap, . . . 'e never was a fyvorite: p56.jpg}

We have had a sad scene to-night.  A chick has been ailing all day, and
when we shut up the brood we found him dead in a corner.

Phoebe put him on the ground while she busied herself about the coop.  The
other chicks came out and walked about the dead one again and again,
eyeing him curiously.

"Poor little chap!" said Phoebe.  "'E's never 'ad a mother!  'E was an
incubytor chicken, and wherever I took 'im 'e was picked at.  There was
somethink wrong with 'im; 'e never was a fyvorite!"

I put the fluffy body into a hole in the turf, and strewed a handful of
grass over him.  "Sad little epitaph!" I thought.  "He never was a
fyvorite!"



CHAPTER VIII


July 13th.

I like to watch the Belgian hares eating their trifolium or pea-pods or
grass; graceful, gentle things they are, crowding about Mr. Heaven, and
standing prettily, not greedily, on their hind legs, to reach for the
clover, their delicate nostrils and whiskers all a-quiver with
excitement.

As I look out of my window in the dusk I can see one of the mothers
galloping across the enclosure, the soft white lining of her tail acting
as a beacon-light to the eight infant hares following her, a quaint
procession of eight white spots in it glancing line.  In the darkest
night those baby creatures could follow their mother through grass or
hedge or thicket, and she would need no warning note to show them where
to flee in case of danger.  "All you have to do is to follow the white
night-light that I keep in the lining of my tail," she says, when she is
giving her first maternal lectures; and it seems a beneficent provision
of Nature.  To be sure, Mr. Heaven took his gun and went out to shoot
wild rabbits to-day, and I noted that he marked them by those same self-
betraying tails, as they scuttled toward their holes or leaped toward the
protecting cover of the hedge; so it does not appear whether Nature is on
the side of the farmer or the rabbit . . .

{Mr. Heaven . . . went out to shoot wild rabbits: p59.jpg}

There is as much comedy and as much tragedy in poultry life as anywhere,
and already I see rifts within lutes.  We have in a cage a French
gentleman partridge married to a Hungarian lady of defective sight.  He
paces back and forth in the pen restlessly, anything but content with the
domestic fireside.  One can see plainly that he is devoted to the
Boulevards, and that if left to his own inclinations he would never have
chosen any spouse but a thorough Parisienne.

The Hungarian lady is blind of one eye, from some stray shot, I suppose.
She is melancholy at all times, and occasionally goes so far as to beat
her head against the wire netting.  If liberated, Mr. Heaven says that
her blindness would only expose her to death at the hands of the first
sportsman, and it always seems to me as if she knows this, and is ever
trying to decide whether a loveless marriage is any better than the tomb.

Then, again, the great, grey gander is, for some mysterious reason, out
of favour with the entire family.  He is a noble and amiable bird, by far
the best all-round character in the flock, for dignity of mien and large-
minded common-sense.  What is the treatment vouchsafed to this blameless
husband and father?  One that puts anybody out of sorts with virtue and
its scant rewards.  To begin with, the others will not allow him to go
into the pond.  There is an organised cabal against it, and he sits
solitary on the bank, calm and resigned, but, naturally, a trifle hurt.
His favourite retreat is a tiny sort of island on the edge of the pool
under the alders, where with his bent head, and red-rimmed philosophic
eyes he regards his own breast and dreams of happier days.  When the
others walk into the country twenty-three of them keep together, and Burd
Alane (as I have named him from the old ballad) walks by himself.  The
lack of harmony is so evident here, and the slight so intentional and
direct, that it almost moves me to tears.  The others walk soberly,
always in couples, but even Burd Alane's rightful spouse is on the side
of the majority, and avoids her consort.

{Out of favour with the entire family: p61.jpg}

What is the nature of his offence?  There can be no connubial jealousies,
I judge, as geese are strictly monogamous, and having chosen a partner of
their joys and sorrows they cleave to each other until death or some
other inexorable circumstance does them part.  If they are ever mistaken
in their choice, and think they might have done better, the world is none
the wiser.  Burd Alane looks in good condition, but Phoebe thinks he is
not quite himself, and that some day when he is in greater strength he
will turn on his foes and rend them, regaining thus his lost prestige,
for formerly he was king of the flock.

* * * * *

Phoebe has not a vestige of sentiment.  She just asked me if I would have
a duckling or a gosling for dinner; that there were two quite ready--the
brown and yellow duckling, that is the last to leave the water at night,
and the white gosling that never knows his own 'ouse.  Which would I
'ave, and would I 'ave it with sage and onion?

Now, had I found a duckling on the table at dinner I should have eaten it
without thinking at all, or with the thought that it had come from
Barbury Green.  But eat a duckling that I have stoned out of the pond,
pursued up the bank, chased behind the wire netting, caught, screaming,
in a corner, and carried struggling to his bed?  Feed upon an idiot
gosling that I have found in nine different coops on nine successive
nights--in with the newly-hatched chicks, the half-grown pullets, the
setting hen, the "invaleed goose," the drake with the gapes, the old
ducks in the pen?--Eat a gosling that I have caught and put in with his
brothers and sisters (whom he never recognises) so frequently and
regularly that I am familiar with every joint in his body?

In the first place, with my own small bump of locality and lack of
geography, I would never willingly consume a creature who might, by some
strange process of assimilation, make me worse in this respect; in the
second place, I should have to be ravenous indeed to sit down
deliberately and make a meal of an intimate friend, no matter if I had
not a high opinion of his intelligence.  I should as soon think of eating
the Square Baby, stuffed with sage and onion and garnished with green
apple-sauce, as the yellow duckling or the idiot gosling.

Mrs. Heaven has just called me into her sitting-room, ostensibly to ask
me to order breakfast, but really for the pleasure of conversation.  Why
she should inquire whether I would relish some gammon of bacon with eggs,
when she knows that there has not been, is not now, and never will be,
anything but gammon of bacon with eggs, is more than I can explain.

"Would you like to see my flowers, miss?" she asks, folding her plump
hands over her white apron.  "They are looking beautiful this morning.  I
am so fond of potted plants, of plants in pots.  Look at these geraniums!
Now, I consider that pink one a perfect bloom; yes, a perfect bloom.  This
is a fine red one, is it not, miss?  Especially fine, don't you think?
The trouble with the red variety is that they're apt to get "bobby" and
have to be washed regularly; quite bobby they do get indeed, I assure
you.  That white one has just gone out of blossom, and it was really
wonderful.  You could 'ardly have told it from a paper flower, miss, not
from a white paper flower.  My plants are my children nowadays, since
Albert Edward is my only care.  I have been the mother of eleven
children, miss, all of them living, so far as I know; I know nothing to
the contrary.  I 'ope you are not wearying of this solitary place, miss?
It will grow upon you, I am sure, as it did upon Mrs. Pollock, with all
her peculiar fancies, and as it 'as grown upon us.--We formerly had a
butcher's shop in Buffington, and it was naturally a great
responsibility.  Mr. Heaven's nerves are not strong, and at last he
wanted a life of more quietude, more quietude was what he craved.  The
life of a retail butcher is a most exciting and wearying one.  Nobody
satisfied with their meat; as if it mattered in a world of change!
Everybody complaining of too much bone or too little fat; nobody wishing
tough chops or cutlets, but always seeking after fine joints, when it's
against reason and nature that all joints should be juicy and all cutlets
tender; always complaining if livers are not sent with every fowl, always
asking you to remember the trimmin's, always wanting their beef well
'ung, and then if you 'ang it a minute too long, it's left on your 'ands!
I often used to say to Mr. Heaven, yes many's the time I've said it, that
if people would think more of the great 'ereafter and less about their
own little stomachs, it would be a deal better for them, yes, a deal
better, and make it much more comfortable for the butchers!"

{The life . . . is a most exciting and wearying one: p65.jpg}

* * * * *

Burd Alane has had a good quarter of an hour to-day.

{His spouse took a brief promenade with him: p66.jpg}

His spouse took a brief promenade with him.  To be sure, it was during an
absence of the flock on the other side of the hedge so that the moral
effect of her spasm of wifely loyalty was quite lost upon them.  I
strongly suspect that she would not have granted anything but a secret
interview.  What a petty, weak, ignoble character!  I really don't like
to think so badly of any fellow-creature as I am forced to think of that
politic, time-serving, pusillanimous goose.  I believe she laid the egg
that produced the idiot gosling!



CHAPTER IX


Here follows the true story of Sir Muscovy Drake, the Lady Blanche, and
Miss Malardina Crippletoes.

Phoebe's flock consisted at first mostly of Brown Mallards, but a friend
gave her a sitting of eggs warranted to produce a most beautiful variety
of white ducks.  They were hatched in due time, but proved hard to raise,
till at length there was only one survivor, of such uncommon grace and
beauty that we called her the Lady Blanche.  Presently a neighbour sold
Phoebe his favourite Muscovy drake, and these two splendid creatures by
"natural selection" disdained to notice the rest of the flock, but
forming a close friendship, wandered in the pleasant paths of duckdom
together, swimming and eating quite apart from the others.

In the brown flock there was one unfortunate, misshapen from the egg,
quite lame, and with no smoothness of plumage; but on that very account,
apparently, or because she was too weak to resist them, the others
treated her cruelly, biting her and pushing her away from the food.

One day it happened that the two ducks--Sir Muscovy and Lady Blanche--had
come up from the water before the others, and having taken their repast
were sitting together under the shade of a flowering currant-bush, when
they chanced to see poor Miss Crippletoes very badly used and crowded
away from the dish.  Sir Muscovy rose to his feet; a few rapid words
seemed to pass between him and his mate, and then he fell upon the other
drake and the heartless minions who had persecuted the helpless one,
drove them far away out of sight, and, returning, went to the corner
where the victim was cowering, her face to the wall.  He seemed to
whisper to her, or in some way to convey to her a sense of protection;
for after a few moments she tremblingly went with him to the dish, and
hurriedly ate her dinner while he stood by, repulsing the advances of the
few brown ducks who remained near and seemed inclined to attack her.

When she had eaten enough Lady Blanche joined them, and they went down
the hill together to their favourite swimming-place.  After that Miss
Crippletoes always followed a little behind her protectors, and thus
shielded and fed she grew stronger and well-feathered, though she was
always smaller than she should have been and had a lowly manner, keeping
a few steps in the rear of her superiors and sitting at some distance
from their noon resting-place.

Phoebe noticed after a while that Lady Blanche was seldom to be seen, and
Sir Muscovy and Miss Crippletoes often came to their meals without her.
The would-be mother refused to inhabit the house Phoebe had given her,
and for a long time the place she had chosen for her sitting could not be
found.  At length the Square Baby discovered her in a most ideal spot.  A
large boulder had dropped years ago into the brook that fills our duck-
pond; dropped and split in halves with the two smooth walls leaning away
from each other.  A grassy bank towered behind, and on either side of the
opening, tall bushes made a miniature forest where the romantic mother
could brood her treasures while her two guardians enjoyed the water close
by her retreat.

All this happened before my coming to Thornycroft Farm, but it was I who
named the hero and heroines of the romance when Phoebe had told me all
the particulars.  Yesterday morning I was sitting by my open window.  It
was warm, sunny, and still, but in the country sounds travel far, and I
could hear fowl conversation in various parts of the poultry-yard as well
as in all the outlying bits of territory occupied by our feathered
friends.  Hens have only three words and a scream in their language, but
ducks, having more thoughts to express, converse quite fluently, so
fluently, in fact, that it reminds me of dinner at the Hydropathic Hotel.
I fancy I have learned to distinguish seven separate sounds, each varied
by degrees of intensity, and with upward or downward inflections like the
Chinese tongue.

In the distance, then, I heard the faint voice of a duck calling as if
breathless and excited.  While I wondered what was happening, I saw Miss
Crippletoes struggling up the steep bank above the duck-pond.  It was the
quickest way from the water to the house, but difficult for the little
lame webbed feet.  When she reached the level grass sward she sank down a
moment, exhausted; but when she could speak again she cried out, a sharp
staccato call, and ran forward.

Instantly she was answered from a distant knoll, where for some reason
Sir Muscovy loved to retire for meditation.  The cries grew lower and
softer as the birds approached each other, and they met at the corner
just under my window.  Instantly they put their two bills together and
the loud cries changed to confiding murmurs.  Evidently some hurried
questions and answers passed between them, and then Sir Muscovy waddled
rapidly by the quickest path, Miss Crippletoes following him at a slower
pace, and both passed out of sight, using their wings to help their feet
down the steep declivity.  The next morning, when I wakened early, my
first thought was to look out, and there on the sunny greensward where
they were accustomed to be fed, Sir Muscovy, Lady Blanche, and their
humble maid, Malardina Crippletoes, were scattering their own breakfast
before the bills of twelve beautiful golden balls of ducklings.  The
little creatures could never have climbed the bank, but must have started
from their nest at dawn, coming round by the brook to the level at the
foot of the garden, and so by slow degrees up to the house.

Judging from what I heard and knew of their habits, I am sure the
excitement of the previous morning was occasioned by the hatching of the
eggs, and that Lady Blanche had hastily sent her friend to call Sir
Muscovy, the family remaining together until they could bring the babies
with them and display their beauty to Phoebe and me.



CHAPTER X


July 14th.

We are not wholly without the pleasures of the town in Barbury Green.
Once or twice in a summer, late on a Saturday afternoon, a procession of
red and yellow vans drives into a field near the centre of the village.
By the time the vans are unpacked all the children in the community are
surrounding the gate of entrance.  There is rifle-shooting, there is
fortune-telling, there are games of pitch and toss, and swings, and
French bagatelle; and, to crown all, a wonderful orchestrion that goes by
steam.  The water is boiled for the public's tea, and at the same time
thrilling strains of melody are flung into the air.  There is at present
only one tune in the orchestrion's repertory, but it is a very good tune;
though after hearing it three hundred and seven times in a single
afternoon, it pursues one, sleeping and waking, for the next week.  Phoebe
and I took the Square Baby and went in to this diversified entertainment.
There was a small crowd of children at the entrance, but as none of them
seemed to be provided with pennies, and I felt in a fairy godmother mood,
I offered them the freedom of the place at my expense.

I never purchased more radiant good-will for less money, but the combined
effect of the well-boiled tea and the boiling orchestrion produced many
village nightmares, so the mothers told me at chapel next morning.

* * * * *

I have many friends in Barbury Green, and often have a pleasant chat with
the draper, and the watchmaker, and the chemist.

{The freedom of the place at my expense: p74.jpg}

The last house on the principal street is rather an ugly one, with
especially nice window curtains.  As I was taking my daily walk to the
post-office (an entirely unfruitful expedition thus far, as nobody has
taken the pains to write to me) I saw a nursemaid coming out of the gate,
wheeling a baby in a perambulator.  She was going placidly away from the
Green when, far in the distance, she espied a man walking rapidly toward
us, a heavy Gladstone bag in one hand.  She gazed fixedly for a moment,
her eyes brightening and her cheeks flushing with pleasure,--whoever it
was, it was an unexpected arrival;--then she retraced her steps and,
running up the garden-path, opened the front door and held an excited
colloquy with somebody; a slender somebody in a nice print gown and
neatly-dressed hair, who came to the gate and peeped beyond the hedge
several times, drawing back between peeps with smiles and heightened
colour.  She did not run down the road, even when she had satisfied
herself of the identity of the traveller; perhaps that would not have
been good form in an English village, for there were houses on the
opposite side of the way.  She waited until he opened the gate, the
nursemaid took the bag and looked discreetly into the hedge, then the
mistress slipped her hand through the traveller's arm and walked up the
path as if she had nothing else in the world to wish for.  The nurse had
a part in the joy, for she lifted the baby out of the perambulator and
showed proudly how much he had grown.

It was a dear little scene, and I, a passer-by, had shared in it and felt
better for it.  I think their content was no less because part of it had
enriched my life, for happiness, like mercy, is twice blessed; it blesses
those who are most intimately associated in it, and it blesses all those
who see it, hear it, feel it, touch it, or breathe the same atmosphere.  A
laughing, crowing baby in a house, one cheerful woman singing about her
work, a boy whistling at the plough, a romance just suspected, with its
miracle of two hearts melting into one--the wind's always in the west
when you have any of these wonder-workers in your neighbourhood.

I have talks too, sometimes, with the old parson, who lives in a quaint
house with "_Parva Domus Magna Quies_" cut into the stone over the
doorway.  He is not a preaching parson, but a retired one, almost the
nicest kind, I often think.

He has been married thirty years, he tells me; thirty years, spent in the
one little house with the bricks painted red and grey alternately, and
the scarlet holly-hocks growing under the windows.  I am sure they have
been sweet, true, kind years, and that his heart must be a quiet,
peaceful place just like his house and garden.

"I was only eleven years old when I fell in love with my wife," he told
me as we sat on the seat under the lime-tree; he puffing cosily at his
pipe, I plaiting grasses for a hatband.

{Puffing cosily at his pipe: p77.jpg}

"It was just before Sunday-school.  Her mother had dressed her all in
white muslin like a fairy, but she had stepped on the edge of a puddle,
and some of the muddy water had bespattered her frock.  A circle of
children had surrounded her, and some of the motherly little girls were
on their knees rubbing at the spots anxiously, while one of them wiped
away the tears that were running down her pretty cheeks.  I looked!  It
was fatal!  I did not look again, but I was smitten to the very heart!  I
did not speak to her for six years, but when I did, it was all right with
both of us, thank God! and I've been in love with her ever since, when
she behaves herself!"

That is the way they speak of love in Barbury Green, and oh! how much
sweeter and more wholesome it is than the language of the town!  Who
would not be a Goose Girl, "to win the secret of the weed's plain heart"?
It seems to me that in society we are always gazing at magic-lantern
shows, but here we rest our tired eyes with looking at the stars.



CHAPTER XI


{A Hen Conference: p79.jpg}

July 16th.

Phoebe and I have been to a Hen Conference at Buffington.  It was for the
purpose of raising the standard of the British Hen, and our local
Countess, who is much interested in poultry, was in the chair.

It was a very learned body, but Phoebe had coached me so well that at the
noon recess I could talk confidently with the members, discussing the
various advantages of True and Crossed Minorcas, Feverels, Andalusians,
Cochin Chinas, Shanghais, and the White Leghorn.  (Phoebe, when she
pronounces this word, leaves out the "h" and bears down heavily on the
last syllable, so that it rhymes with begone!)

As I was sitting under the trees waiting for Phoebe to finish some
shopping in the village, a travelling poultry-dealer came along and
offered to sell me a silver Wyandotte pullet and cockerel.  This was a
new breed to me and I asked the price, which proved to be more than I
should pay for a hat in Bond Street.  I hesitated, thinking meantime what
a delightful parting gift they would be for Phoebe; I mean if we ever
should part, which seems more and more unlikely, as I shall never leave
Thornycroft until somebody comes properly to fetch me; indeed, unless the
"fetching" is done somewhat speedily I may decline to go under any
circumstances.  My indecision as to the purchase was finally banished
when the poultryman asserted that the fowls had clear open centres all
over, black lacing entirely round the white centres, were free from white
edging, and each had a cherry-red eye.  This catalogue of charms inflamed
my imagination, though it gave me no mental picture of a silver Wyandotte
fowl, and I paid the money while the dealer crammed the chicks, squawking
into my five-o'clock tea-basket.

{Arguing questions of diet: p81.jpg}

The afternoon session of the conference was most exciting, for we reached
the subject of imported eggs, an industry that is assuming terrifying
proportions.  The London hotel egg comes from Denmark, it seems,--I
should think by sailing vessel, not steamer, but I may be wrong.  After
we had settled that the British Hen should be protected and encouraged,
and agreed solemnly to abstain from Danish eggs in any form, and made a
resolution stating that our loyalty to Queen Alexandra would remain
undiminished, we argued the subject of hen diet.  There was a great
difference of opinion here and the discussion was heated; the honorary
treasurer standing for pulped mangold and flint grit, the chair insisting
on barley meal and randans, while one eloquent young woman declared, to
loud cries of "'Ear, 'ear!" that rice pudding and bone chips produce more
eggs to the square hen than any other sort of food.  Impassioned orators
arose here and there in the audience demanding recognition for beef
scraps, charcoal, round corn or buckwheat.  Foods were regarded from
various standpoints: as general invigorators, growth assisters, and egg
producers.  A very handsome young farmer carried off final honours, and
proved to the satisfaction of all the feminine poultry-raisers that green
young hog bones fresh cut in the Banner Bone Breaker (of which he was the
agent) possessed a nutritive value not to be expressed in human language.

{The afternoon session was most exciting: p82.jpg}

Phoebe was distinctly nervous when I rose to say a few words on poultry
breeding, announcing as my topic "Mothers, Stepmothers, Foster-Mothers,
and Incubators."  Protected by the consciousness that no one in the
assemblage could possibly know me, I made a distinct success in my maiden
speech; indeed, I somewhat overshot the mark, for the Countess in the
chair sent me a note asking me to dine with her that evening.  I
suppressed the note and took Phoebe away before the proceedings were
finished, vanishing from the scene of my triumphs like a veiled prophet.

Just as we were passing out the door we paused to hear the report of a
special committee whose chairman read the following resolutions:--

_Whereas_,--It has pleased the Almighty to remove from our midst our
greatest Rose Comb Buff Orpington fancier and esteemed friend, Albert
Edward Sheridain; therefore be it

_Resolved_,--That the next edition of our catalogue contain an
illustrated memorial page in his honour and

_Resolved_,--That the Rose Comb Buff Orpington Club extend to the
bereaved family their heartfelt sympathy.

{Not asked to the Conference: p84.jpg}

The handsome young farmer followed us out to our trap, invited us to
attend the next meeting of the R. C. B. O. Club, of which he was the
secretary, and asked if I were intending to "show."  I introduced Phoebe
as the senior partner, and she concealed the fact that we possessed but
one Buff Orpington, and he was a sad "invaleed" not suitable for
exhibition.  The farmer's expression as he looked at me was almost lover-
like, and when he pressed a bit of paper into my hand I was sure it must
be an offer of marriage.  It was in fact only a circular describing the
Banner Bone Breaker.  It closed with an appeal to Buff Orpington breeders
to raise and ever raise the standard, bidding them remember, in the midst
of a low-minded and sordid civilisation, that the rose comb should be
small and neat, firmly set on, with good working, a nice spike at the
back lying well down to head, and never, under any circumstances, never
sticking up.  This adjuration somewhat alarmed us as Phoebe and I had
been giving our Buff Orpington cockerel the most drastic remedies for his
languid and prostrate comb.

{Coming home: p85.jpg}

Coming home we alighted from the trap to gather hogweed for the rabbits.
I sat by the wayside lazily and let Phoebe gather the appetising weed,
which grows along the thorniest hedges in close proximity to nettles and
thistles.

Workmen were trudging along with their luncheon-baskets of woven
bulrushes slung over their shoulders.  Fields of ripening grain lay on
either hand, the sun shining on their every shade of green and yellow,
bronze and orange, while the breeze stirred the bearded barley into a
rippling golden sea.

Phoebe asked me if the people I had left behind at the Hydropathic were
my relatives.

"Some of them are of remote consanguinity," I responded evasively, and
the next question was hushed upon her awe-stricken tongue, as I intended.

"They are obeying my wish to be let alone, there's no doubt of that," I
was thinking.  "For my part, I like a little more spirit, and a little
less 'letter'!"

{Workmen were trudging home: p87.jpg}

As the word "letter" flitted through my thoughts, I pulled one from my
pocket and glanced through it carelessly.  It arrived, somewhat tardily,
only last night, or I should not have had it with me.  I wore the same
dress to the post-office yesterday that I wore to the Hen Conference to-
day, and so it chanced to be still in the pocket.  If it had been
anything I valued, of course I should have lost or destroyed it by
mistake; it is only silly, worthless little things like this that keep
turning up and turning up after one has forgotten their existence.

   "You are a mystery!" [it ran.]  "I can apprehend, but not comprehend
   you.  I know you in part.  I understand various bits of your nature;
   but my knowledge is always fragmentary and disconnected, and when I
   attempt to make a whole of the mosaics I merely get a kaleidoscopic
   effect.  Do you know those geographical dissected puzzles that they
   give to children?  You remind me of one of them.

   "I have spent many charming (and dangerous) hours trying to 'put you
   together'; but I find, when I examine my picture closely, that after
   all I've made a purple mountain grow out of a green tree; that my
   river is running up a steep hillside; and that the pretty milkmaid,
   who should be wandering in the forest, is standing on her head with
   her pail in the air

   "Do you understand yourself clearly?  Or is it just possible that when
   you dive to the depths of your own consciousness, you sometimes find
   the pretty milkmaid standing on her head?  I wonder!" . . .

Ah, well, it is no wonder that he wonders!   So do I, for that matter!



CHAPTER XII


{Along the highway: p89.jpg}

July 17th.

Thornycroft Farm seems to be the musical centre of the universe.

When I wake very early in the morning I lie in a drowsy sort of dream,
trying to disentangle, one from the other, the various bird notes,
trills, coos, croons, chirps, chirrups, and warbles.  Suddenly there
falls on the air a delicious, liquid, finished song; so pure, so mellow,
so joyous, that I go to the window and look out at the morning world,
half awakened, like myself.

There is I know not what charm in a window that does not push up, but
opens its lattices out into the greenness.  And mine is like a little
jewelled door, for the sun is shining from behind the chimneys and
lighting the tiny diamond panes with amber flashes.

A faint delicate haze lies over the meadow, and rising out of it, and
soaring toward the blue is the lark, flinging out that matchless matin
song, so rich, so thrilling, so lavish!  As the blithe melody fades away,
I hear the plaintive ballad-fragments of the robin on a curtsying branch
near my window; and there is always the liquid pipe of the thrush, who
must quaff a fairy goblet of dew between his songs, I should think, so
fresh and eternally young is his note.

There is another beautiful song that I follow whenever I hear it,
straining my eyes to the treetops, yet never finding a bird that I can
identify as the singer.  Can it be the--

   "Ousel-cock so black of hue,
   With orange-tawny bill"?

He is called the poet-laureate of the primrose time, but I don't know
whether he sings in midsummer, and I have not seen him hereabouts.  I
must write and ask my dear Man of the North.  The Man of the North, I
sometimes think, had a Fairy Grandmother who was a robin; and perhaps she
made a nest of fresh moss and put him in the green wood when he was a wee
bairnie, so that he waxed wise in bird-lore without knowing it.  At all
events, describe to him the cock of a head, the glance of an eye, the tip-
up of a tail, or the sheen of a feather, and he will name you the bird.
Near-sighted he is, too, the Man of the North, but that is only for
people.

The Square Baby and I have a new game.

I bought a doll's table and china tea-set in Buffington.  We put it under
an apple-tree in the side garden, where the scarlet lightning grows so
tall and the Madonna lilies stand so white against the flaming
background.  We built a little fence around it, and every afternoon at
tea-time we sprinkle seeds and crumbs in the dishes, water in the tiny
cups, drop a cherry in each of the fruit-plates, and have a _the
chantant_ for the birdies.  We sometimes invite an "invaleed" duckling,
or one of the baby rabbits, or the peacock, in which case the cards
read:--

   _Thornycroft Farm_.
   The pleasure of your company is requested
   at a
   _The Chantant_
   Under the Apple Tree.
   Music at five.

It is a charming game, as I say, but I'd far rather play it with the Man
of the North; he is so much younger than the Square Baby, and so much
more responsive, too.

{The scent of the hay: p92.jpg}

Thornycroft Farm is a sweet place, too, of odours as well as sounds.  The
scent of the hay is for ever in the nostrils, the hedges are thick with
wild honeysuckle, so deliciously fragrant, the last of the June roses are
lingering to do their share, and blackberry blossoms and ripening fruit
as well.

I have never known a place in which it is so easy to be good.  I have not
said a word, nor scarcely harboured a thought, that was not lovely and
virtuous since I entered these gates, and yet there are those who think
me fantastic, difficult, hard to please, unreasonable!

{The last of June: p93.jpg}

I believe the saints must have lived in the country mostly (I am certain
they never tried Hydropathic hotels), and why anybody with a black heart
and natural love of wickedness should not simply buy a poultry farm and
become an angel, I cannot understand.

{A place in which it is so easy to be good: p94.jpg}

Living with animals is really a very improving and wholesome kind of
life, to the person who will allow himself to be influenced by their
sensible and high-minded ideals.  When you come to think about it, man is
really the only animal that ever makes a fool of himself; the others are
highly civilised, and never make mistakes.  I am going to mention this
when I write to somebody, sometime; I mean if I ever do.  To be sure, our
human life is much more complicated than theirs, and I believe when the
other animals notice our errors of judgment they make allowances.  The
bee is as busy as a bee, and the beaver works like a beaver, but there
their responsibility ends.  The bee doesn't have to go about seeing that
other bees are not crowded into unsanitary tenements or victimised by the
sweating system.  When the beaver's day of toil is over he doesn't have
to discuss the sphere, the rights, or the voting privileges of
beaveresses; all he has to do is to work like a beaver, and that is
comparatively simple.



CHAPTER XIII


{Not particularly attracted by the poultry: p96.jpg}

I have been studying _The Young Poultry Keeper's Friend_ of late.  If
there is anything I dislike and deplore, it is the possession of
knowledge which I cannot put to practical use.  Having discovered an
interesting disease called Scaly Leg in the July number, I took the
magazine out into the poultry-yard and identified the malady on three
hens and a cock.  Phoebe joined me in the diagnosis and we treated the
victims with a carbolic lotion and scrubbed them with vaseline.

{Leaned languidly against the netting: p97.jpg}

As Phoebe and I grow wise in medical lore the case of Cannibal Ann
assumes a different aspect.  As the bibulous man quaffs more and more
flagons of beer and wine when his daily food is ham, salt fish, and
cabbage, so does the hen avenge her wrongs of diet and woes of
environment.  Cannibal Ann, herself, has, so far as we know, been raised
in a Christian manner and enjoyed all the advantages of modern methods;
but her maternal parent may have lived in some heathen poultry-yard which
was asphalted or bricked or flagged, so that she was debarred from
scratching in Mother Earth and was forced to eat her own shells in self-
defence.

* * * * *

The Square Baby is not particularly attracted by the poultry as a whole,
save when it is boiled with bacon or roasted with bread-sauce; but he is
much interested in the "invaleeds."  Whenever Phoebe and I start for the
hospital with the tobacco-pills, the tin of paraffin, and the bottle of
oil, he is very much in evidence.  Perhaps he has a natural leaning
toward the medical profession; at any rate, when pain and anguish wring
the brow, he is in close attendance upon the ministering angels.

{Staggered and reeled: p98.jpg}

Now it is necessary for the physician to have practice as well as theory,
so the Square Baby, being left to himself this afternoon, proceeded to
perfect himself in some of the healing arts used by country
practitioners.

{Caught her son red-handed: p99.jpg}

When discovered, he was seated in front of the wire-covered "run"
attached to a coop occupied by the youngest goslings.  A couple of
bottles and a box stood by his side, and I should think he had
administered a cup of sweet oil, a pint of paraffin, and a quarter of a
pound of tobacco during his clinic.  He had used the remedies
impartially, sometimes giving the paraffin internally and rubbing the
patient's head with tobacco or oil, sometimes the reverse.

Several goslings leaned languidly against the netting, or supported
themselves by the edge of the water-dish, while others staggered and
reeled about with eyes half closed.

{He was treated summarily and smartly: p100.jpg}

It was Mrs. Heaven who caught her son red-handed, so to speak.  She was
dressed in her best, and just driving off to Woodmucket to spend a day or
two with her married daughter, and soothe her nerves with the uproar
incident to a town of six hundred inhabitants.  She delayed her journey a
half-hour--long enough, in fact, to change her black silk waist for a
loose sacque which would give her arms full and comfortable play.  The
joy and astonishment that greeted the Square Baby on his advent, five
years ago, was forgotten for the first time in his brief life, and he was
treated precisely as any ordinary wrongdoer would have been treated under
the same circumstances, summarily and smartly; the "wepping," as Phoebe
would say, being Mrs. Heaven's hand.

All but one of the goslings lived, like thousands of others who recover
in spite of the doctors, but the Square Baby's interest in the healing
art is now perceptibly lessened.



CHAPTER XIV


July 18th.

The day was Friday; Phoebe's day to go to Buffington with eggs and
chickens and rabbits; her day to solicit orders for ducklings and
goslings.  The village cart was ready in the stable; Mr. and Mrs. Heaven
were in Woodmucket; I was eating my breakfast (which I remember was an
egg and a rasher) when Phoebe came in, a figure of woe.

The Square Baby was ill, very ill, and would not permit her to leave him
and go to market.  Would I look at him?  For he must have dowsed 'imself
as well as the goslings yesterday; anyways he was strong of paraffin and
tobacco, though he 'ad 'ad a good barth.

I prescribed for Albert Edward, who was as uncomfortable and feverish as
any little sinner in the county of Sussex, and I then promptly proposed
going to Buffington in Phoebe's place.

She did not think it at all proper, and said that, notwithstanding my
cotton gown and sailor hat, I looked quite, quite the lydy, and it would
never do.

"I cannot get any new orders," said I, "but I can certainly leave the
rabbits and eggs at the customary places.  I know Argent's Dining
Parlours, and Songhurst's Tea Rooms, and the Six Bells Inn, as well as
you do."

{The Six Bells found the last poultry somewhat tough: p103.jpg}

So, donning a pair of Phoebe's large white cotton gloves with open-work
wrists (than which I always fancy there is no one article that so
disguises the perfect lydy), I set out upon my travels, upborne by a
lively sense of amusement that was at least equal to my feeling that I
was doing Phoebe Heaven a good turn.

Prices in dressed poultry were fluctuating, but I had a copy of _The
Trade Review_, issued that very day, and was able to get some idea of
values and the state of the market as I jogged along.  The general
movement, I learned, was moderate and of a "selective" character.  Choice
large capons and ducks were in steady demand, but I blushed for my
profession when I read that roasting chickens were running coarse,
staggy, and of irregular value.  Old hens were held firmly at sixpence,
and it is my experience that they always have to be, at whatever price.
Geese were plenty, dull, and weak.  Old cocks,--why don't they say
roosters?--declined to threepence ha'penny on Thursday in sympathy with
fowls,--and who shall say that chivalry is dead?  Turkeys were a trifle
steadier, and there was a speculative movement in limed eggs.  All this
was illuminating, and I only wished I were quite certain whether the
sympathetic old roosters were threepence ha'penny apiece, or a pound.

{The gadabout hen: p105.jpg}

Everything happened as it should, on this first business journey of my
life, which is equivalent to saying that nothing happened at all.
Songhurst's Tea Rooms took five dozen eggs and told me to bring six dozen
the next week.  Argent's Dining Parlours purchased three pairs of
chickens and four rabbits.  The Six Bells found the last poultry somewhat
tough and tasteless; whereupon I said that our orders were more than we
could possibly fill, still I hoped we could go on "selling them," as we
never liked to part with old customers, no matter how many new ones there
were.  Privately, I understood the complaint only too well, for I knew
the fowls in question very intimately.  Two of them were the runaway
rooster and the gadabout hen that never wanted to go to bed with the
others.  The third was Cannibal Ann.  I should have expected them to be
tough, but I cannot believe they were lacking in flavour.

The only troublesome feature of the trip was that Mrs. Sowerbutt's
lodgers had suddenly left for London and she was unable to take the four
rabbits as she had hoped; but as an offset to that piece of ill-fortune
the Coke and Coal Yard and the Bicycle Repairing Rooms came out into the
street, and, stepping up to the trap, requested regular weekly deliveries
of eggs and chickens, and hoped that I would be able to bring them
myself.  And so, in a happy frame of mind, I turned out of the Buffington
main street, and was jogging along homeward, when a very startling thing
happened; namely, a whole verse of the Bailiff's Daughter of Islington:--

   "And as she went along the high road,
   The weather being hot and dry,
   She sat her down upon a green bank,
   And her true love came riding by."

That true lovers are given to riding by, in ballads, I know very well,
but I hardly supposed they did so in real life, especially when every
precaution had been taken to avert such a catastrophe.  I had told the
Barbury Green postmistress, on the morning of my arrival, not to give the
Thornycroft address to anybody whatsoever, but finding, as the days
passed, that no one was bold enough or sensible enough to ask for it, I
haughtily withdrew my prohibition.  About this time I began sending
envelopes, carefully addressed in a feigned hand, to a certain person at
the Oxenbridge Hydro.  These envelopes contained no word of writing, but
held, on one day, only a bit of down from a hen's breast, on another, a
goose-quill, on another, a glossy tail-feather, on another, a grain of
corn, and so on.  These trifles were regarded by me not as degrading or
unmaidenly hints and suggestions, but simply as tests of intelligence.
Could a man receive tokens of this sort and fail to put two and two
together?  I feel that I might possibly support life with a domineering
and autocratic husband,--and there is every prospect that I shall be
called upon to do so,--but not with a stupid one.  Suppose one were
linked for ever to a man capable of asking,--"Did _you_ send those
feathers? . . . How was I to guess? . . . How was a fellow to know they
came from you? . . . What on earth could I suppose they meant? . . . What
clue did they offer me as to your whereabouts? . . . Am I a Sherlock
Holmes?"--No, better eternal celibacy than marriage with such a being!

{She was unable to take the four rabbits: p107.jpg}

These were the thoughts that had been coursing through my goose-girl mind
while I had been selling dressed poultry, but in some way they had not
prepared me for the appearance of the aforesaid true love.

To see the very person whom one has left civilisation to avoid is always
more or less surprising, and to make the meeting less likely, Buffington
is even farther from Oxenbridge than Barbury Green.  The creature was
well mounted (ominous, when he came to override my caprice!) and he
looked bigger, and, yes, handsomer, though that doesn't signify, and
still more determined than when I saw him last; although goodness knows
that timidity and feebleness of purpose were not in striking evidence on
that memorable occasion.  I had drawn up under the shade of a tree
ostensibly to eat some cherries, thinking that if I turned my face away I
might pass unrecognised.  It was a stupid plan, for if I had whipped up
the mare and driven on, he of course, would have had to follow, and he
has too much dignity and self-respect to shriek recriminations into a
woman's ear from a distance.

{The creature was well mounted: p109.jpg}

He approached with deliberation, reined in his horse, and lifted his hat
ceremoniously.  He has an extremely shapely head, but I did not show that
the sight of it melted in the least the ice of my resolve; whereupon we
talked, not very freely at first,--men are so stiff when they consider
themselves injured.  However, silence is even more embarrassing than
conversation, so at length I begin:--

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"It is a lovely day."

_True Love_.--"Yes, but the drought is getting rather oppressive, don't
you think?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"The crops certainly need rain, and the feed is
becoming scarce."

_True Love_.--"Are you a farmer's wife?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh no! that is a promotion to look forward to; I
am now only a Goose Girl."

_True Love_.--"Indeed!  If I wished to be severe I might remark: that I
am sure you have found at last your true vocation!"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"It was certainly through no desire to please
_you_ that I chose it."

_True Love_.--"I am quite sure of that!  Are you staying in this part?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh no!  I live many miles distant, over an
extremely rough road.  And you?"

_True Love_.--"I am still at the Hydropathic; or at least my luggage is
there."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"It must be very pleasant to attract you so long."

_True Love_.--"Not so pleasant as it was."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"No?  A new proprietor, I suppose."

_True Love_.--"No; same proprietor; but the house is empty."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (yawning purposely).--"That is strange; the hotels
are usually so full at this season.  Why did so many leave?"

_True Love_.--"As a matter of fact, only one left.  'Full' and 'empty'
are purely relative terms.  I call a hotel full when it has you in it,
empty when it hasn't."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (dying to laugh, but concealing her feelings).--"I
trust my bulk does not make the same impression on the general public!
Well, I won't detain you longer; good afternoon; I must go home to my
evening work."

_True Love_.--"I will accompany you."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"If you are a gentleman you will remain where you
are."

_True Love_.--"In the road?  Perhaps; but if I am a man I shall follow
you; they always do, I notice.  What are those foolish bundles in the
back of that silly cart?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Feed for the pony, please, sir; fish for dinner;
randans and barley meal for the poultry; and four unsold rabbits.
Wouldn't you like them?  Only one and sixpence apiece.  Shot at three
o'clock this morning."

_True Love_.--"Thanks; I don't like mine shot so early."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh, well! doubtless I shall be able to dispose of
them on my way home, though times is 'ard!"

_True Love_.--"Do you mean that you will "peddle" them along the road?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"You understand me better than usual,--in fact to
perfection."

He dismounts and strides to the back of the cart, lifts the covers,
seizes the rabbits, flings some silver contemptuously into the basket,
and looks about him for a place to bury his bargain.  A small boy
approaching in the far distance will probably bag the game.

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (modestly).--"Thanks for your trade, sir, rather
ungraciously bestowed, and we 'opes for a continuance of your past
fyvors."

_True Love_ (leaning on the wheel of the trap).--"Let us stop this
nonsense.  What did you hope to gain by running away?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Distance and absence."

_True Love_.--"You knew you couldn't prevent my offering myself to you
sometime or other."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Perhaps not; but I could at least defer it,
couldn't I?"

_True Love_.--"Why postpone the inevitable?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Doubtless I shrank from giving you the pain of a
refusal."

_True Love_.--"Perhaps; but do you know what I suspect?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"I'm not a suspicious person, thank goodness!"

_True Love_.--"That, on the contrary, you are wilfully withholding from
me the joy of acceptance."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"If I intended to accept you, why did I run away?"

_True Love_.--"To make yourself more desirable and precious, I suppose."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (with the most confident coquetry).--"Did I
succeed?"

_True Love_.--"No; you failed utterly."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (secretly piqued).--"Then I am glad I tried it."

_True Love_.--"You couldn't succeed because you were superlatively
desirable and precious already; but you should never have experimented.
Don't you know that Love is a high explosive?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Is it?  Then it ought always to be labelled
'dangerous,' oughtn't it?  But who thought of suggesting matches?  I'm
sure I didn't!"

_True Love_.--"No such luck; I wish you would."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"According to your theory, if you apply a match to
Love it is likely to 'go off.'"

_True Love_.--"I wish you would try it on mine and await the result.  Come
now, you'll have to marry somebody, sometime."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"I confess I don't see the necessity."

_True Love_ (morosely).--"You're the sort of woman men won't leave in
undisturbed spinsterhood; they'll keep on badgering you."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh, I don't mind the badgering of a number of
men; it's rather nice.  It's the one badger I find obnoxious."

_True Love_ (impatiently).--"That's just the perversity of things.  I
could put a stop to the protestations of the many; I should like nothing
better--but the pertinacity of the one!  Ah, well!  I can't drop that
without putting an end to my existence."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (politely).--"I shouldn't think of suggesting
anything so extreme."

_True Love_ (quoting).--"'Mrs. Hauksbee proceeded to take the conceit out
of Pluffles as you remove the ribs of an umbrella before re-covering.'
However, you couldn't ask me anything seriously that I wouldn't do, dear
Mistress Perversity."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (yielding a point).--"I'll put that boldly to the
proof.  Say you don't love me!"

_True Love_ (seizing his advantage).--"I don't!  It's imbecile and
besotted devotion!  Tell me, when may I come to take you away?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (sighing).--"It's like asking me to leave Heaven."

{Phoebe and Gladwish: p115.jpg}

_True Love_.--"I know it; she told me where to find you,--Thornycroft is
the seventh poultry-farm I've visited,--but you could never leave Heaven,
you can't be happy without poultry, why that is a wish easily gratified.
I'll get you a farm to-morrow; no, it's Saturday, and the real estate
offices close at noon, but on Monday, without fail.  Your ducks and
geese, always carrying it along with you.  All you would have to do is to
admit me; Heaven is full of twos.  If you shall swim on a crystal
lake--Phoebe told me what a genius you have for getting them out of the
muddy pond; she was sitting beside it when I called, her hand in that of
a straw-coloured person named Gladwish, and the ground in her vicinity
completely strewn with votive offerings.  You shall splash your silver
sea with an ivory wand; your hens shall have suburban cottages, each with
its garden; their perches shall be of satin-wood and their water dishes
of mother-of-pearl.  You shall be the Goose Girl and I will be the Swan
Herd--simply to be near you--for I hate live poultry.  Dost like the
picture?  It's a little like Claude Melnotte's, I confess.  The fact is I
am not quite sane; talking with you after a fortnight of the tabbies at
the Hydro is like quaffing inebriating vodka after Miffin's Food!  May I
come to-morrow?"

_Bailiffs Daughter_ (hedging).--"I shall be rather busy; the Crossed
Minorca hen comes off to-morrow."

_True Love_.--"Oh, never mind!  I'll take her off to-night when I escort
you to the farm; then she'll get a day's advantage."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"And rob fourteen prospective chicks of a mother;
nay, lose the chicks themselves?  Never!"

_True Love_.--"So long as you are a Goose Girl, does it make any
difference whose you are?  Is it any more agreeable to be Mrs. Heaven's
Goose Girl than mine?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Ah! but in one case the term of service is
limited; in the other, permanent."

_True Love_.--"But in the one case you are the slave of the employer, in
the other the employer of the slave.  Why did you run away?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"A man's mind is too dull an instrument to measure
a woman's reason; even my own fails sometimes to deal with all its
delicate shades; but I think I must have run away chiefly to taste the
pleasure of being pursued and brought back.  If it is necessary to your
happiness that you should explore all the Bluebeard chambers of my being,
I will confess further that it has taken you nearly three weeks to
accomplish what I supposed you would do in three days!"

_True Love_ (after a well-spent interval).--"To-morrow, then; shall we
say before breakfast?  All, do!  Why not?  Well, then, immediately after
breakfast, and I breakfast at seven nowadays, and sometimes earlier.  Do
take off those ugly cotton gloves, dear; they are five sizes too large
for you, and so rough and baggy to the touch!"





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