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Title: Adopting an Abandoned Farm
Author: Sanborn, Kate
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 "Adopting an Abandoned Farm" ***

Adopting An Abandoned Farm





An old farm-house with meadows wide,
And sweet with clover on each side.





    I have now come to the farmer’s life, with which I am exceedingly
    delighted, and which seems to me to belong especially to the life of
    a wise man.


Weary of boarding at seashore and mountain, tired of traveling in
search of comfort, hating hotel life, I visited a country friend at
Gooseville, Conn. (an assumed name for Foxboro, Mass.), and passed
three happy weeks in her peaceful home.

Far away at last from the garish horrors of dress, formal dinners,
visits, and drives, the inevitable and demoralizing gossip and scandal;
far away from hotel piazzas, with their tedious accompaniments of
corpulent dowagers, exclusive or inquisitive, slowly dying from too
much food and too little exercise; ennuied spinsters; gushing buds;
athletic collegians, cigarettes in mouths and hands in pockets;
languid, drawling dudes; old bachelors, fluttering around the fair
human flower like September butterflies; fancy work, fancy work, like
Penelope’s web, never finished; pug dogs of the aged and asthmatic
variety. Everything there but MEN—they are wise enough to keep far away.

Before leaving this haven of rest, I heard that the old-fashioned
farm-house just opposite was for sale. And, as purchasers of real
estate were infrequent at Gooseville, it would be rented for forty
dollars a year to any responsible tenant who would “keep it up.”

After examining the house from garret to cellar and looking over
the fields with a critical eye, I telegraphed to the owner, fearful
of losing such a prize, that I would take it for three years. For
it captivated me. The cosy “settin’-room,” with a “pie closet” and
an upper tiny cupboard known as a “rum closet” and its pretty fire
place—bricked up, but capable of being rescued from such prosaic
“desuetude”; a large sunny dining-room, with a brick oven, an oven
suggestive of brown bread and baked beans—yes, the baked beans of my
childhood, that adorned the breakfast table on a Sunday morning, cooked
with just a little molasses and a square piece of crisp salt pork in
center, a dish to tempt a dying anchorite.

There wore two broad landings on the stairs, the lower one
just the place for an old clock to tick out its impressive
“Forever—Never—Never—Forever” _à la_ Longfellow. Then the long “shed
chamber” with a wide swinging door opening to the west, framing a
sunset gorgeous enough to inspire a mummy. And the attic, with its
possible treasures.

There was also a queer little room, dark and mysterious, in the center
of house on the ground floor, without even one window, convenient to
retire to during severe thunder storms or to evade a personal interview
with a burglar; just the place, too, for a restless ghost to revisit.

Best of all, every room was blessed with two closets.

Outside, what rare attractions! Twenty-five acres of arable land,
stretching to the south; a grand old barn, with dusty, cobwebbed,
hay-filled lofts, stalls for two horses and five cows; hen houses, with
plenty of room to carry out a long-cherished plan of starting a poultry

The situation, too, was exceptional, since the station from which I
could take trains direct to Boston and New York almost touched the
northern corner of the farm, and nothing makes one so willing to stay
in a secluded spot as the certainty that he or she can leave it at any
time and plunge directly into the excitements and pleasures which only
a large city gives.

What charmed me most of all was a tiny but fascinating lakelet in the
pasture near the house; a “spring-hole” it was called by the natives,
but a lakelet it was to me, full of the most entrancing possibilities.
It could be easily enlarged at once, and by putting a wind-mill on
the hill, by the deep pool in “Chicken Brook” where the pickerel
loved to sport, and damming something, somewhere, I could create or
evolve a miniature pond, transplant water lilies, pink and white, set
willow shoots around the well-turfed, graveled edge, with roots of the
forget-me-not hiding under the banks their blue blossoms; just the
flower for happy lovers to gather as they lingered in their rambles to
feed my trout. And there should be an arbor, vine-clad and sheltered
from the curious gaze of the passers-by, and a little boat, moored at
a little wharf, and a plank walk leading up to the house. And—and oh,
the idealism possible when an enthusiastic woman first rents a farm—an
“abandoned” farm!

It may be more exact to say that my farm was not exactly “abandoned,”
as its owner desired a tenant and paid the taxes; say rather depressed,
full of evil from long neglect, suffering from lack of food and general

As “abandoned farms” are now a subject of general interest, let me say
that my find was nothing unusual. The number of farms without occupants
in New Hampshire in August, 1889, was 1,342 and in Maine 3,318; and I
saw lately a farm of twenty acres advertised “free rent and a present
of fifty dollars.”

But it is my farm I want you to care about. I could hardly wait until
winter was over to begin my new avocation. By the last of March I was
assured by practical agriculturists (who regarded me with amusement
tempered with pity) that it was high time to prune the lazy fruit trees
and arouse, if possible, the debilitated soil—in short, begin to “keep
it up.”

So I left New York for the scene of my future labors and novel lessons
in life, accompanied by a German girl who proved to be merely an
animated onion in matters of cooking, a half-breed hired man, and a
full-bred setter pup who suffered severely from nostalgia and strongly
objected to the baggage car and separation from his playmates.

If wit is, as has been averred, the “juxtaposition of dissimilar
ideas,” then from “Gotham to Gooseville” is the most scintillating
epigram ever achieved. Nothing was going on at Gooseville except
time and the milk wagon collecting for the creamery. The latter came
rumbling along every morning at 4.30 precisely, with a clatter of cans
that never failed to arouse the soundest sleeper.

The general dreariness of the landscape was depressing. Nature herself
seemed in a lethargic trance, and her name was mud.

But with a house to furnish and twenty-five enfeebled acres to
resuscitate, one must not mind. Advanced scientists assure us of
life, motion, even intelligence, appetite, and affection in the most
primitive primordial atoms. So, after a little study, I found that the
inhabitants of Gooseville and its outlying hamlets were neither dead
nor sleeping. It was only by contrast that they appeared comatose and

Indeed, the degree of gayety was quite startling. I was at once invited
to “gatherings” which rejoiced in the paradoxical title of “Mum
Sociables,” where a penalty of five cents was imposed on each person
for speaking (the revenue to go toward buying a new hearse, a cheerful
object of benevolence), and the occasions were most enjoyable. There
was also a “crazy party” at Way-back, the next village. This special
form of lunacy I did not indulge in—farming was enough for me—but the
painter who was enlivening my dining-room with a coating of vivid red
and green, kindly told me all about it, how much I missed, and how
the couple looked who took the first prize. The lady wore tin plates,
tin cans, tin spoons, etc., sewed on to skirt and waist in fantastic
patterns, making music as she walked, and on her head a battered old
coffee pot, with artificial flowers which had outlived their usefulness
sticking out of the spout; and her winning partner was arrayed in rag
patchwork of the most demented variety.

“Youdorter gone” said he; “’twas a great show. But I bet youder beaten
the hull lot on ’em if you’d set your mind on’t!”

My walls were now covered with old-fashioned papers, five and ten cents
a roll, and cheap matting improved the floors. But how to furnish
eleven rooms? This brings me to—



“Going, going, gone.”

Next came the excitement of auctions, great occasions, and of vital
importance to me, as I was ambitious to furnish the entire house for
one hundred dollars.

When the head of a family dies a settlement of the estate seems to make
an auction necessary. I am glad of the custom, it proved of invaluable
service to me, and the mortality among old people was quite phenomenal
at Gooseville and thereabouts last year. While I deeply regretted the
demise of each and all, still this general taking off was opportune for
my needs.

There were seventeen auctions last season, and all but two were
attended by me or my representatives.

A country auction is not so exciting as one in the city; still you must
be wide-awake and cool, or you will be fleeced. An experienced friend,
acquainted with the auctioneer, piloted me through my first sale, and
for ten dollars I bought enough really valuable furniture to fill a
large express wagon—as a large desk with drawers, little and big,
fascinating pigeon holes, and a secret drawer, for two dollars; queer
old table, ten cents; good solid chairs, nine cents each; mahogany
center-table, one dollar and sixteen cents; and, best of all, a tall
and venerable clock for the landing, only eight dollars! Its “innards”
sadly demoralized, but capable of resuscitation, the weights being
tin-cans filled with sand and attached by strong twine to the “works.”
It has to be wound twice daily, and when the hour hand points to six
and the other to ten, I guess that it is about quarter past two, and in
five minutes I hear the senile timepiece strike eleven!

The scene was unique. The sale had been advertised in post-office and
stores as beginning at 10 A.M., but at eleven the farmers and their
women folks were driving toward the house. A dozen old men, chewing
tobacco and looking wise, were in the barn yard examining the stock to
be sold, the carts and farming tools; a flock of hens were also to be
disposed of, at forty cents each.

On such occasions the families from far and near who want to dispose
of any old truck are allowed to bring it to add to the motley display.
The really valuable possessions, if any, are kept back, either for
private sale or to be divided among the heirs. I saw genuine antiques
occasionally—old oak chests, finely carved oaken chairs—but these
were rare. After the horses have been driven up and down the street,
and with the other stock disposed of, it is time for lunch. Following
the crowd into the kitchen, you see two barrels of crackers open, a
mammoth cheese of the skim-milk species with a big knife by it, and on
the stove a giant kettle in which cotton bags full of coffee are being
distilled in boiling water. You are expected to dip a heavy white mug
into the kettle for your share of the fragrant reviving beverage, cut
off a hunk of cheese, and eat as many crackers as you can. It tasted
well, that informal “free lunch.”

Finding after one or two trials that the interested parties raised
rapidly on anything I desired. I used to send Gusta and John, nicknamed
very properly “Omniscience and Omnipotence,” which names did equally
well when reversed (like a paper cuff), and they, less verdant than
their mistress, would return with an amazing array of stuff. We now
have everything but a second-hand pulpit, a wooden leg, and a coffin
plate. We utilized a cradle and antique churn as a composite flower
stand; an immense spinning-wheel looks pretty covered with running
vines, an old carriage lantern gleams brightly on my piazza every
evening. I nearly bought a horse for fifteen dollars, and did secure
a wagon for one dollar and a half, which, after a few needed repairs,
costing only twenty-six dollars, was my pride, delight and comfort, and
the envy of the neighborhood. Men came from near and far to examine
that wagon, felt critically of every wheel, admired the shining coat
of dark-green paint, and would always wind up with: “I vum, if that
’ere wagon ain’t fine! Why, it’s wuth fifty dollars, now, ef it’s wuth
a cent!” After a hard day’s work, it seemed a gratification to them
to come with lanterns to renew their critical survey, making a fine
Rembrandtish study as they stood around it and wondered. A sleigh was
bought for three dollars which, when painted by our home artist, is
both comfortable and effective.

At one auction, where I was the only woman present, I bid on three
shovels (needed to dig worms for my prize hens!) and, as the excitement
increased with a rise in bids from two cents to ten, I cried, “Eleven!”
And the gallant old fellow in command roared out as a man opened his
mouth for “Twelve!”: “I wouldn’t bid ag’in a woman ef I’se you. Let ’er
have ’em! Madam, Mum, or Miss—I can’t pernounce your name and don’t
rightly know how to spell it—but the shovels are yourn!”

Attending auctions may be an acquired taste, but it grows on one
like any other habit, and whenever a new and tempting announcement
calls, I rise to the occasion and hasten to the scene of action, be
the weather what it may. And many a treasure has been picked up in
this way. Quaint old mirrors with the queerest pictures above, brass
knockers, candlesticks of queer patterns, cups and saucers and plates,
mugs of all sizes, from one generous enough to satisfy the capacities
of a lager-soaked Dutchman to a dear little child’s mug, evidently
once belonging to a series. Mine was for March. A mother sitting on a
bench, with a bowl of possibly Lenten soup by her side, is reproving
a fat little fellow for his gross appetite at this solemn season. He
is weeping, and on her other side a pet dog is pleading to be fed. The
rhyme explains the reason:

  The jovial days of feasting past,
  ’Tis pious prudence come at last;
  And eager gluttony is taught
  To be content with what it ought.

A warming pan and a foot stove, just as it was brought home from a merry
sleigh-ride, or a solemn hour at the “meetin’-house,” recalling that
line of Thomas Gray’s:

  E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

Sometimes I would offer a little more to gain some coveted treasure
already bid off. How a city friend enjoyed the confidences of a man who
had agreed to sell for a profit! How he chuckled as he told of “one of
them women who he guessed was a leetle crazy.” “Why, jest think on’t! I
only paid ten cents for that hull lot on the table yonder, and _she_”
(pointing to me) “_she_ gin me a quarter for that old pair o’ tongs!”

One day I heard some comments on myself after I had bid on a rag carpet
and offered more than the other women knew it was worth.

“She’s got a million, I hear.”

“Wanter know—merried?”

“No; just an old maid.”

“Judas Priest! Howd she git it?”

“Writin’, I ’spoze. She writes love stories and sich for city papers.
Some on ’em makes a lot.”

It is not always cheering to overhear too much. When some of my
friends, whom I had taken to a favorite junk shop, felt after two hours
of purchase and exploration that they must not keep me waiting any
longer, the man, in his eagerness to make a few more sales, exclaimed:
“Let her wait; _her_ time ain’t wuth nothin’!”

At an auction last summer, one man told me of a very venerable lantern,
an heirloom in his first wife’s family, _so_ long, measuring nearly a
yard with his hands. I said I should like to go with him to see it, as
I was making a collection of lanterns. He looked rather dazed, and as I
turned away he inquired of my friend “if I wusn’t _rather_—” She never
allowed him to finish, and his lantern is now mine.

People seem to have but little sentiment about their associations with
furniture long in the family.

The family and a few intimate friends usually sit at the upper windows
gazing curiously on the crowd, with no evidence of feeling or pathetic

I lately heard a daughter say less than a month after her father’s
death, pointing to a small cretonne-covered lounge: “Father made me
that lounge with his own hands when I’s a little girl. He tho’t a sight
on’t it, and allers kep’ it ’round. But my house is full now. I ain’t
got no room for’t.” It sold for twelve cents!

Arthur Helps says that human nature craves, nay _enjoys_, tragedy; and
when away from dramatic representation of crime and horrors and sudden
death, as in this quiet country life, the people gratify their needs in
the sorrows, sins, and calamities that befall their neighbors.

I strongly incline to Hawthorne’s idea that furniture becomes
magnetized, permeated, semi-vitalized, so that the chairs, sofas, and
tables that have outlived their dear owners in my own family have
almost a sacred value to me.

Still, why moralize. Estates must be settled, and auctions are a
blessing in disguise.

Of course, buying so much by substitutes, I amassed a lot of curious
things, of which I did not know the use or value, and therefore greatly
enjoyed the experience of the Spectator as given in the Christian Union.

He attended an auction with the following result: “A long table was
covered with china, earthenware, and glass; and the mantel beyond, a
narrow shelf quite near the ceiling, glittered with a tangled maze of
clean brass candlesticks, steel snuffers, and plated trays. At one
end dangled a huge warming pan, and on the wall near it hung a bit of
canvas in a gilded frame, from which the portrait had as utterly faded
as he whom it represented had vanished into thin air. It was a strange
place, a room from which many a colonial citizen had passed to take a
stroll upon the village street; and here, in sad confusion to be sure,
the dishes that graced his breakfast table. The Spectator could have
lingered there if alone for half a day, but not willingly for half an
hour in such a crowd. The crowd, however, closed every exit and he
had to submit. A possible chance to secure some odd bit was his only
consolation. Why the good old soul who last occupied the house, and
who was born in it fourscore years ago, should necessarily have had
only her grandmother’s tableware, why every generation of this family
should have suffered no losses by breakage, was not asked. Every bit,
even to baking-powder prizes of green and greasy glass, antedated the
Revolution, and the wise and mighty of Smalltown knew no better. A bit
of egg shell sticking to a cracked teacup was stolen as a relic of
Washington’s last breakfast in Smalltown.

       *       *       *       *       *

“While willow-pattern china was passing into other hands the Spectator
made a discovery. A curious piece of polished, crooked mahogany was
seen lying between soup tureens and gravy boats. He picked it up
cautiously, fearing to attract attention, and, with one eye everywhere
else, scanned it closely. What a curious paper-knife! he thought, and
slyly tucked it back of a pile of plates. This must be kept track of;
it may prove a veritable prize. But all his care went for naught. A
curious old lady at his elbow had seen every action. ‘What is it?’
she asked, and the wooden wonder was brought to light. ‘It’s an
old-fashioned wooden butter knife. I’ve seen ’em ’afore this. Don’t
you know in old times it wasn’t everybody as had silver, and mahogany
knives for butter was put on the table for big folks. We folks each
used our own knife.’ All this was dribbled into the Spectator’s
willing ears, and have the relic he would at any cost. Time and again
he nervously turned it over to be sure that it was on the table, and
so excited another’s curiosity. ‘What is it?’ a second and still
older lady asked. ‘A colonial butter knife,’ the Spectator replied
with an air of much antiquarian lore. ‘A butter knife! No such thing.
My grandfather had one just like this, and it’s a pruning knife. He
wouldn’t use a steel knife because it poisoned the sap.’ What next?
Paper knife, butter knife, and pruning knife! At all events every new
name added a dollar to its value, and the Spectator wondered what the
crowd would say, for now it was in the auctioneer’s hands. He looked
at it with a puzzled expression and merely cried: ‘What is bid for
_this_?’ His ignorance was encouraging. It started at a dime and the
Spectator secured it for a quarter. For a moment he little wondered at
the fascination of public sales. The past was forgiven, for now luck
had turned and he gloried in the possession of a prize.

“To seek the outer world was a perilous undertaking for fear that the
triply-named knife might come to grief; but a snug harbor was reached
at last, and hugging the precious bit, the Spectator mysteriously
disappeared on reaching his home. No one must know of his success until
the mystery was cleaned, brightened, and restored to pristine beauty.
The Spectator rubbed the gummy surface with kerosene, and then polished
it with flannel. Then warm water and a tooth brush were brought into
play, and the oil all removed. Then a long dry polishing, and the
restoration was complete. Certainly no other Smalltowner had such a
wooden knife; and it was indeed beautiful. Black in a cross light, red
in direct light, and kaleidoscopic by gaslight. Ah, such a prize! The
family knew that something strange was transpiring, but what no one
had an inkling. They must wait patiently, and they did. The Spectator
proudly appeared, his prize in hand. ‘See there!’ he cried in triumph,
and they all looked eagerly; and when the Spectator’s pride was soaring
at its highest, a younger daughter cried, ‘Why, papa, it’s the back of
a hair-brush!’ And it was.”

An auctioneer usually tries to be off-hand, waggish, and brisk—a cross
between a street peddler and a circus clown, with a hint of the forced
mirth of the after-dinner speaker. Occasionally the jokes are good and
the answers from the audience show the ready Yankee wit.

Once an exceedingly fat man, too obese to descend from his high wagon,
bought an immense dinner bell and he was hit unmercifully. A rusty
old fly-catcher elicited many remarks—as “no flies on that.” I bought
several chests, half full of rubbish, but found, alas! no hidden
treasure, no missing jewels, no money hid away by miserly fingers and
forgotten. Jake Corey, who was doing some work for me, encouraged me to
hope. He said: “I hear ye patronize auctions putty reg’lar; sometimes
there is a good deal to be made that way, and then ag’in there isn’t.
I never had no luck that way, but it’s like getting married, it’s a
lottery! Folks git queer and put money in some spot, where they’re apt
to forgit all about it. Now I knew a man who bought an old hat and a
sight of other stuff; jest threw in the hat. And when he got home and
come to examine it ef thar warn’t three hundred dollars in good bills,
chucked in under the sweater!”

“You ought to git over to Mason’s auction to Milldon, sure. It’s day
after to-morrow at nine sharp. You see he’d a fortune left him, but he
run straight through it buying the goldarndest things you ever heerd
tell on—calves with six legs, dogs with three eyes or two tails, steers
that could be druv most as well as hosses (Barnum he got hold o’ ’em
and tuk ’em round with his show); all sorts o’ curious fowl and every
outlandish critter he could lay his hands on. ’T stands to reason he
couldn’t run that rig many years. Your goin’s on here made me think o’
Mason. He cut a wide swath for a time.

“Wall, I hope you’ll come off better’n he did. He sunk such a pile that
he got discouraged and took to drink; then his wife, a mighty likely
woman she is (one o’ the Batchelders of Dull Corner), couldn’t stand it
and went back to her old home, and he died ragged and friendless about
a month ago. Ef I’s you, I’d go over, just to take warning and hold up
in time.”



    “And you know this Deacon Elkins to be a thoroughly reliable man in
    every respect?”

    “Indeed, I do,” said honest Nathan Robbins. “He is the very soul of
    honor; couldn’t do a mean thing. I’d trust him with all I have.”

    “Well, I’m glad to hear this, for I’m just going to buy a horse of

    “A horse?”

    “Yes—a horse!”

    “Then I don’t know anything about him!”


After furnishing my house in the aforesaid economical and nondescript
fashion, came the trials of “planting time.” This was such an
unfragrant and expensive period that I pass over it as briefly as
possible. I saw it was necessary in conformity with the appalling
situation to alter one vowel in my Manorial Hall. The haul altogether
amounted to eighteen loads besides a hundred bags of vilely smelling
fertilizers. Agents for every kind of phosphates crowded around me,
descanting on the needs of the old land, until I began to comprehend
what the owner meant by “keeping it up.” With Gail Hamilton, I had
supposed the entire land of this earth to be pretty much the same age
until I adopted the “abandoned.” This I found was fairly senile in its
worthless decrepitude.

My expenditure was something prodigious.

Yes, “planting time” was a nightmare in broad daylight, but as I look
back, it seems a rosy dream, compared with the prolonged agonies of
buying a horse!

All my friends said I must have a horse to truly enjoy the country, and
it seemed a simple matter to procure an animal for my own use.

Livery-stable keepers, complaisant and cordial, were continually
driving around the corner into my yard, with a tremendous flourish
and style, chirking up old by-gones, drawing newly painted buggies,
patched-up phaetons, two-seated second-hand “Democrats,” high wagons,
low chaises, just for me to try. They all said that seeing I was a lady
and had just come among ’em, they would trade easy and treat me well.
Each mentioned the _real_ value, and a much lower price, at which I,
as a special favor, could secure the entire rig. Their prices were all
abominably exorbitant, so I decided to hire for a season. The dozen
beasts tried in two months, if placed in a row, would cure the worst
case of melancholia. Some shied; others were liable to be overcome by
“blind staggers”; three had the epizootic badly, and longed to lie
down; one was nearly blind. At last I was told of a lady who desired to
leave her pet horse and Sargent buggy in some country home during her
three months’ trip abroad.

Both were so highly praised as _just the thing_ that I took them on

I judge that a woman can lie worse than a man about a horse!

“You will love my Nellie” she wrote. “I hate to part with her, even for
the summer. She has been a famous racer in Canada—can travel easily
twenty-five miles a day. Will go better at the end of the journey than
at the beginning. I hear you are an accomplished driver, so I send my
pet to your care without anxiety.”

I sent a man to her home to drive out with this delightful treasure,
and pictured myself taking long and daily drives over our excellent
country roads. Nellie, _dear_ Nellie; I loved her already. How I would
pet her, and how fond she would become of me. Two lumps of sugar at
least, every day for her, and red ribbons for the whip. How she would
dash along! A horse for me at last! About 1.45 A.M., of the next day,
a carriage was heard slowly entering the yard. I could hardly wait
until morning to gloat over my gentle racer! At early dawn I visited
the stable and found John disgusted beyond measure with my bargain. A
worn-out, tumble-down, rickety carriage with wobbling wheels, and an
equally worn-out, thin, dejected, venerable animal, with an immense
blood spavin on left hind leg, recently blistered! It took three
weeks of constant doctoring, investment in Kendall’s Spavin Cure, and
consultation with an expensive veterinary surgeon, to get the whilom
race horse into a condition to slowly walk to market. I understood now
the force of the one truthful clause—“She will go better at the end
of the drive than at the beginning,” for it was well-nigh impossible
to get her stiff legs started without a fire kindled under them and
a measure of oats held enticingly before her. It was enraging, but
nothing to after experiences. All the disappointed livery men, their
complaisance and cordiality, wholly a thing of the past, were jubilant
that I had been so imposed upon by some one, even if they had failed.
And their looks, as they wheeled rapidly by me, as I crept along with
the poor, suffering, limping “Nellie,” were almost more than I could

Horses were again brought for inspection, and there was a repetition of
previous horrors. At last a man came from Mossgrown. He had an honest
face; he knew of a man who knew of a man whose brother had just _the_
horse for me, “sound, stylish, kind, gentle as a lamb, fast as the
wind.” Profiting by experience, I said I would look at it. Next day,
a young man, gawky and seemingly unsophisticated, brought the animal.
It looked well enough, and I was so tired. He was anxious to sell, but
only because he was going to be married and go West; needed money. And
he said with sweet simplicity: “Now I ain’t no jockey, I ain’t! You
needn’t be afeard of me—I say just what I mean. I want spot cash, I
do, and you can have horse, carriage, and harness for $125 down.” He
gave me a short drive, and we did go “like the wind.” I thought the
steed very hard to hold in, but he convinced me that it was not so. I
decided to take the creature a week on trial, which was a blow to that
guileless young man. And that very afternoon I started for the long,
pleasant drive I had been dreaming about since early spring.

The horse looked quiet enough, but I concluded to take my German
domestic along for extra safety. I remembered his drawling direction,
“Doan’t pull up the reins unless you want him to go pretty lively,”
so held the reins rather loosely for a moment only, for this last
hope wheeled round the corner as if possessed, and after trotting,
then breaking, then darting madly from side to side, started into a
full run. I pulled with all my might; Gusta stood up and helped. No
avail. On we rushed to sudden death. No one in sight anywhere. With one
Herculean effort, bred of the wildest despair, we managed to rein him
in at a sharp right angle, and we succeeded in calming his fury, and
tied the panting, trembling fiend to a post. Then Gusta mounted guard
while I walked home in the heat and dirt, fully half a mile to summon

I learned that _that_ horse had never before been driven by a woman. He
evidently was not pleased.

Soon the following appeared among the local items of interest in the
Gooseville Clarion:

    Uriel Snooks, who has been working in the cheese factory at
    Frogville, is now to preside over chair number four in Baldwin’s
    Tonsorial Establishment on Main Street.

    Kate Sanborn is trying another horse.

These bits of information in the papers were a boon to the various
reporters, but most annoying to me. The Bungtown Gazetteer announced
that “a well-known Boston poetess had purchased the Britton Farm, and
was fitting up the old homestead for city boarders!” I couldn’t import a
few hens, invest in a new dog, or order a lawn mower, but a full account
would grace the next issue of all the weeklies. I sympathized with the
old woman who exclaimed in desperation:

  “Great Jerusalem, ca’nt I stir,
  Without a-raisin’ some feller’s fur?”

At last I suspected the itinerant butcher of doing double duty as a
reporter, and found that he “was engaged by several editors to pick up
bits of news for the press” as he went his daily rounds. “But this,”
I exclaimed, “is just what I don’t want and can’t allow. Now if you
should drive in here some day and discover me dead, reclining against
yonder noble elm, or stark at its base, surrounded by my various pets,
don’t allude to it in the most indirect way. I prefer the funeral to be
strictly private. Moreover, if I notice another ‘item’ about me, I’ll
buy of your rival.” And the trouble ceased.

But the horses! Still they came and went. I used to pay my friend the
rubicund surgeon to test some of these highly recommended animals in a
short drive with me.

One pronounced absolutely unrivaled was discovered by my wise mentor to
be “watch-eyed,” “rat-tailed,” with a swollen gland on the neck, would
shy at a stone, stand on hind legs for a train, with various other
minor defects. I grew fainthearted, discouraged, cynical, bitter. Was
there no horse for me? I became town-talk as “a drefful fussy old maid
who didn’t know her own mind, and couldn’t be suited _no_ way.”

I remember one horse brought by a butcher from West Bungtown. It was,
in the vernacular, a buck-skin. Hide-bound, with ribs so prominent they
suggested a wash-board. The two fore legs were well bent out at the
knees; both hind legs were swelled near the hoofs. His ears nearly as
large as a donkey’s; one eye covered with a cataract, the other deeply
sunken. A Roman nose, accentuated by a wide stripe, aided the pensive
expression of his drooping under lip. He leaned against the shafts as
if he were tired.

“There, Marm,” said the owner, eying my face as an amused expression
stole over it; “ef you don’t care for _style_, ef ye want a good,
steddy critter, and a critter that can _go_, and a critter that _any_
lady can drive, _there’s_ the critter for ye!”

I did buy at last, for life had become a burden. An _interested_
neighbor (who really pitied me?) induced me to buy a pretty little
black horse. I named him “O.K.”

After a week I changed to “N.G.”

After he had run away, and no one would buy him, “D.B.”

At last I succeeded in exchanging this shying and dangerous creature
for a melancholy, overworked mare at a livery stable. I hear that
“D.B.” has since killed two _I_-talians by throwing them out when not
sufficiently inebriated to fall against rocks with safety.

And my latest venture is a _backer_.

Horses have just as many disagreeable traits, just as much
individuality in their badness, as human beings. Under kind treatment,
daily petting, and generous feeding, “Dolly” is too frisky and
headstrong for a lady to drive.

“Sell that treacherous beast at once or you will be killed,” writes an
anxious friend who had a slight acquaintance with her moods.

I want now to find an equine reliance whose motto is “Nulla vestigia
retrorsum,” or “No steps backward.”

I have pasted Mr. Hale’s famous motto, “Look forward and not back,”
over her stall—but with no effect. The “Lend a Hand” applies to those
we yell for when the backing is going on.

By the way, a witty woman said the other day that men always had the
advantage. A woman looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt;
Bellamy looked back and made sixty thousand dollars.

Mr. Robert B. Roosevelt, in his amusing book “Five Acres too Much”
gives even a more tragic picture, saying: “My experience of horseflesh
has been various and instructive. I have been thrown over their heads
and slid over their tails; have been dragged by saddle, stirrups, and
tossed out of wagons. I have had them to back and to kick, to run and
to bolt, to stand on their hind feet and kick with their front, and
then reciprocate by standing on their front and kicking with their hind
feet.... I have been thrown much with horses and more by them.”

“Horses are the most miserable creatures, invariably doing precisely
what they ought not to do; a pest, a nuisance, a bore.” Or, as some one
else puts it:

“A horse at its best is an amiable idiot; at its worst, a dangerous



    “All were loved and all were regretted, but life is made up of

    “The best thing which a man possesses is his dog.”

When I saw a man driving into my yard after this, I would dart out of a
back door and flee to sweet communion with my cows.

On one such occasion I shouted back that I did not want a horse of
any variety, could not engage any fruit trees, did not want the
place photographed, and was just going out to spend the day. I was
courteously but firmly informed that my latest visitor had, singular to
relate, no horse to dispose of, but he “would like fourteen dollars for
my dog tax for the current year!” As he was also sheriff, constable,
and justice of the peace, I did not think it worth while to argue the
question, although I had no more thought of being called up to pay a
dog tax than a hen tax or cat tax. I trembled, lest I should be obliged
to enumerate my entire menagerie—cats, dogs, canaries, rabbits, pigs,
ducks, geese, hens, turkeys, pigeons, peacocks, cows, and horses.

Each kind deserves an entire chapter, and how easy it would be to
write of cats and their admirers from Cambyses to Warner; of dogs and
their friends from Ulysses to Bismarck. I agree with Ik Marvel that a
cat is like a politician, sly and diplomatic; purring—for food; and
affectionate—for a consideration; really caring nothing for friendship
and devotion, except as means to an end. Those who write books and
articles and verse and prose tributes to cats think very differently,
but the cats I have met have been of this type.

And dogs. Are they really so affectionate, or are they also a
little shrewd in licking the hand that feeds them? I dislike to be
pessimistic. But when my dogs come bounding to meet me for a jolly
morning greeting they do seem expectant and hungry rather than
affectionate. At other hours of the day they plead with loving eyes and
wagging tails for a walk or a seat in the carriage or permission to
follow the wagon.

But I will not analyze their motives. They fill the house and grounds
with life and frolic, and a farm would be incomplete if they were
missing. Hamerton, in speaking of the one dog, the special pet and dear
companion of one’s youth, observes that “the comparative shortness of
the lives of dogs is the only imperfection in the relation between them
and us. If they had lived to three-score and ten, man and dog might
have traveled through life together, but, as it is, we must either have
a succession of affections, or else, when the first is buried in its
early grave, live in a chill condition of dog-less-ness.”

I thank him for that expressive compound word. Almost every one might,
like Grace Greenwood and Gautier, write a History of my Pets and make
a readable book. Carlyle, the grand old growler, was actually attached
to a little white dog—his wife’s special delight, for whom she used to
write cute little notes to the master. And when he met with a fatal
accident, he was tenderly nursed by both for months, and when the
doctor was at last obliged to put him out of pain by prussic acid,
their grief was sincere. They buried him at the top of the garden in
Cheyne Row, and planted cowslips round his grave, and his mistress
placed a stone tablet, with name and date, to mark the last resting
place of her blessed dog.

“I could not have believed,” writes Carlyle in the Memorials, “my
grief then and since would have been the twentieth part of what it
was—nay, that the want of him would have been to me other than a
riddance. Our last midnight walk together (for he insisted on trying to
come), January 31st, is still painful to my thought. Little dim, white
speck of life, of love, of fidelity, girdled by the darkness of night

Beecher said many a good thing about dogs, but I like this best:
Speaking of horseback riding, he incidentally remarked that in
evolution, the human door was just shut upon the horse, but the dog
got fully up before the door was shut. If there was not reason,
mirthfulness, love, honor, and fidelity in a dog, he did not know where
to look for it. Oh, if they only could speak, what wise and humorous
and sarcastic things they would say! Did you never feel snubbed by an
immense dog you had tried to patronize? And I have seen many a dog
smile. Bayard Taylor says: “I know of nothing more moving, indeed
semi-tragic, than the yearning helplessness in the face of a dog, who
understands what is said to him, and can not answer!”

Dr. Holland wrote a poem to his dog Blanco, “his dear, dumb friend,” in
which he expresses what we all have felt many times.

  I look into your great brown eyes,
    Where love and loyal homage shine,
  And wonder where the difference lies
    Between your soul and mine.

The whole poem is one of the best things Holland ever did in rhyme. He
was ambitious to be remembered as a poet, but he never excelled in verse
unless he had something to express that was very near his heart. He was
emphatically the Apostle of Common Sense. How beautifully he closes his
loving tribute—

  Ah, Blanco, did I worship God
    As truly as you worship me,
  Or follow where my Master trod
    With your humility,

  Did I sit fondly at his feet
    As you, dear Blanco, sit at mine,
  And watch him with a love as sweet,
    My life would grow divine!

Almost all our great men have more than one dog in their homes. When
I spent a day with the Quaker poet at Danvers, I found he had three
dogs. Roger Williams, a fine Newfoundland, stood on the piazza with the
questioning, patronizing air of a dignified host; a bright-faced Scotch
terrier, Charles Dickens, peered at us from the window, as if glad of a
little excitement; while Carl, the graceful greyhound, was indolently
coiled up on a shawl and took little notice of us.

Whittier has also a pet cow, favorite and favored, which puts up her
handsome head for an expected caress. The kindly hearted old poet, so
full of tenderness for all created things, told me that years when nuts
were scarce he would put beech nuts and acorns here and there as he
walked over his farm, to cheer the squirrels by an unexpected find.

Miss Mitford’s tribute to her defunct doggie shows to what a degree
of imbecility an old maid may carry fondness for her pets, but it is
pathetically amusing.

“My own darling Mossy’s hair, cut off after he was dead by dear Drum,
August 22, 1819. He was the greatest darling that ever lived (son of
Maria and Mr. Webb’s ‘Ruler,’ a famous dog given him by Lord Rivers),
and was, when he died, about seven or eight years old. He was a large
black dog, of the largest and strongest kind of greyhounds; very fast
and honest, and resolute past example; an excellent killer of hares,
and a most magnificent and noble-looking creature. His coat was of
the finest and most glossy black, with no white, except a very little
under his feet (pretty white shoe linings I used to call them)—a little
beautiful white spot, quite small, in the very middle of his neck,
between his chin and his breast—and a white mark on his bosom. His
face was singularly beautiful; the finest black eyes, very bright,
and yet sweet, and fond, and tender—eyes that seemed to speak; a
beautiful, complacent mouth, which used sometimes to show one of the
long white teeth at the side; a jet black nose; a brow which was bent
and flexible, like Mr. Fox’s, and gave great sweetness and expression,
and a look of thought to his dear face. There never was such a dog! His
temper was, beyond comparison, the sweetest ever known. Nobody ever
saw him out of humor. And his sagacity was equal to his temper. Thank
God, he went off without suffering. He must have died in a moment. I
thought I should have broken my heart when I came home and found what
had happened. I shall miss him every moment of my life; I have missed
him every instant to-day—so have Drum and Granny. He was laid out last
night in the stable, and this morning we buried him in the middle
plantation on the house side of the fence, in the flowery corner,
between the fence and Lord Shrewsbury’s fields. We covered his dear
body with flowers; every flower in the garden. _Everybody loved him_;
‘dear saint,’ as I used to call him, and as _I do not doubt he now
is!!_ No human being was ever so faithful, so gentle, so generous, and
so fond! I shall never love anything half so well.

“It will always be pleasant to me to remember that I never teased him
by petting other things, and that everything I had he shared. He always
ate half my breakfast, and the very day before he died I fed him _all
the morning_ with filberts.” (There may have been a connection between
the filberts and the funeral.)

“While I had him, I was always sure of having one who would love me
alike in riches or poverty, who always looked at me with looks of the
fondest love, always faithful and always kind. To think of him was a
talisman against vexing thoughts. A thousand times I have said, ‘I want
my Mossy,’ when that dear Mossy was close by and would put his dear
black nose under my hand on hearing his name. God bless you, my Mossy!
I cried when you died, and I can hardly help crying whenever I think of
you. All who loved me loved Mossy. He had the most perfect confidence
in me—always came to me for protection against any one who threatened
him, and, thank God, always found it. I value all things he had lately
or ever touched; even the old quilt that used to be spread on my bed
for him to lie on, and which we called Mossy’s quilt; and the pan that
he used to drink out of in the parlor, and which was always called
Mossy’s pan, dear darling!

“I forgot to say that his breath was always sweet and balmy; his coat
always glossy like satin; and he never had any disease or anything to
make him disagreeable in his life. Many other things I have omitted;
and so I should if I were to write a whole volume of his praise; for he
was above all praise, sweet angel! I have inclosed some of his hair,
cut off by papa after his death, and some of the hay on which he was
laid out. He died Saturday, the 21st of August, 1819, at Bertram House.
Heaven bless him, beloved angel!”

It is as sad as true that great natures are solitary, and therefore
doubly value the affections of their pets.

Southey wrote a most interesting biography of the cats of Greta Hall,
and on the demise of one wrote to an old friend: “Alas! Grosvenor, this
day poor old Rumpel was found dead, after as long and as happy a life
as cat could wish for—if cats form wishes on that subject. There should
be a court mourning in Cat-land, and if the Dragon wear a black ribbon
round his neck, or a band of crape, _à la militaire_, round one of the
fore paws, it will be but a becoming mark of respect. As we have not
catacombs here, he is to be decently interred in the orchard and catnip
planted on his grave.”

And so closes this catalogue of Southey’s “Cattery.”

But, hark! my cats are mewing, dogs all calling for me—no—for dinner!
After all, what is the highest civilization but a thin veneer over
natural appetites? What would a club be without its _chefs_, a social
affair without refreshment, a man without his dinner, a woman without
her tea? Come to think of it, I’m hungry myself!



    If every hen should only raise five broods yearly of ten each, and
    there were ten hens to start with, at the end of two years they
    would number 344,760, after the superfluous roosters were sold; and
    then, supposing the extra eggs to have paid for their keeping and
    the produce to be worth only a dollar and a half a pair, there would
    be a clear profit of $258,520. Allowing for occasional deaths, this
    sum might be stated in round numbers at a quarter of a million,
    which would be a liberal increase from ten hens. Of course I did not
    expect to do as well as this, but merely mention what might be done
    with good luck and forcing.


Having always heard, on the best authority, that there was “money
in hens,” I invested largely in prize fowls secured at State fairs
and large poultry shows, buying as many kinds as possible to make an
effective and brilliant display in their “runs.”

There _is_ a good deal of money in my hens—how to get it back is the
present problem. These hens were all heralded as famous layers; several
did lay in the traveling coops on the journey, great pinky-brown
beauties, just to show what they could do if they chose, then stopped
suddenly. I wrote anxiously to former owners of this vaunted stock to
explain such disappointing behavior. Some guessed the hens were just
moulting, others thought “may be they were broody”; a few had the
frankness to agree with me that it was mighty curious, but hens always
were “sorter contrary critters.”

Their appetites remained normal, but, as the little girl said of her
pet bantam, they only lay about doing nothing. And when guests desired
some of my fine fresh eggs boiled for breakfast, I used to go secretly
to a neighbor and buy a dozen, but never gave away the mortifying

Seeing piles of ducks’ eggs in a farmer’s barn, all packed for
market, and picturing the producers, thirty white Pekins, a snowy,
self-supporting fleet on my reformed lakelet, I bought the whole lot,
and for long weary months they were fed and pampered and coaxed and
reasoned with, shut up, let out, kept on the water, forbidden to go to
it, but not one egg to be seen!

It was considered a rich joke in that locality that a city woman who
was trying to farm, had applied for these ducks just as they had
completed their labors for the season of 1888-’90; they were also
extremely venerable, and the reticent owner rejoiced to be relieved
of an expensive burden at good rates. Knowing nothing of these facts
in natural history, I pondered deeply over the double phenomenon. I
said the hens seemed normal only as to appetite; the ducks proved
abnormal in this respect. They were always coming up to the back door,
clamoring for food—always unappeased. They preferred cake, fresh bread,
hot boiled potatoes, doted on tender bits of meat, but would gobble
up anything and everything, more voracious and less fastidious than
the ordinary hog of commerce. Bags of corn were consumed in a flash,
“shorts” were never long before their eager gaze, they went for every
kind of nourishment provided for the rest of the menagerie. A goat
is supposed to have a champion appetite and digestion, but a duck—at
least one of my ducks—leaves a goat so far behind that he never could
regain his reputation for omniverosity. They were too antique to be
eaten themselves—their longevity entitled them to respect; they could
not be disposed of by the shrewdest market man to the least particular
of boarding-house providers; I could only regard them with amazement
and horror and let them go on eating me out of house and home and

But at last I knew. I asked an honest man from afar, who called to sell
something, why those ducks would not lay a single egg. He looked at
them critically and wrote to me the next day:

    “DEAR MADAM: The reason your ducks won’t lay is because they’re too
    old to live and the bigest part of ’em is drakes.



I hear that there are more ducks in the Chinese Empire than in all the
world outside of it. They are kept by the Celestials on every farm,
on the private and public roads, on streets of cities, and on all the
lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and brooks in the country. That is the
secret of their lack of progress. What time have they to advance after
the ducks are fed and cared for? No male inhabitant could ever squeeze
out a leisure half-hour to visit a barber, hence their long queues.

About this time the statement of Mr. Crankin, of North Yeaston, Rhode
Island, that he makes a clear and easy profit of five dollars and
twenty cents per hen each year, and nearly forty-four dollars to every
duck, and might have increased said profit if he had hatched, rather
than sold, seventy-two dozen eggs, struck me as wildly apocryphal. Also
that caring for said hens and ducks was merely an incident of his day’s
work on the large farm, he working with his laborers. Heart-sick and
indignant, contrasting his rosy success with my leaden-hued failure, I
decided to give all my ducks away, as they wouldn’t, couldn’t drown,
and there would be no use in killing them. But no one wanted them! And
everybody smiled quizzically when I proposed the gift.

Just then, as if in direct sarcasm, a friend sent me a paper with an
item marked to the effect that a poor young girl had three ducks’ eggs
given her as the basis of a solid fortune, and actually cleared one
hundred and eighteen dollars from those three eggs the first year.

Another woman solemnly asserts in print a profit of $448.69 from one
hundred hens each year.

The census man told me of a woman who had only eighteen hens. They
gave her sixteen hundred and ninety eggs, of which she sold eighteen
dollars’ worth, leaving plenty for household use.

And my hens and my ducks! In my despair I drove a long way to consult
a “duck man.” He looked like the typical Brother Jonathan, only with
a longer beard, and his face was haggard, unkempt, anxious. He could
scarcely stop to converse, evidently grudged the time, devotes his
entire energies from dawn to twilight to slaving for his eight hundred
ducklings. He also kept an incubator going all the time.

“Do ducks pay you?” I asked.

“Wall, I’m gettin’ to be somewhat of a bigotist,” he said; “I barely
git a livin’.”

“Why Mr. Crankin—” I began.

The name roused his jealous ire, and his voice, a low mumble before,
now burst into a loud roar. “Yes, Crankin makes money, has a sight o’
incubators, makes ’em himself, sells a lot, but some say they don’t act
like his do when they git off his place; most on ’em seem possessed,
but Crankin, _he_ can manage ’em and makes money too.”

“Do your ducks lay much?”

“Lay! I don’t want ’em to lay! Sell ’em all out at nine weeks, ’fore
the pin feathers come; then they’re good eatin’—for them as likes ’em.
I’ve heard of yure old lot. Kill ’em, I say, and start new!”

“Crankin says—”

“I don’t care nothing what Crankin says” (here the voice would have
filled a cathedral), “I tell ye; me and Crankin’s two different

So I felt; but it would not do to give up. I purchased an expensive
incubator and brooder—needn’t have bought a brooder. I put into the
incubator at a time when eggs were scarce and high priced, two hundred
eggs—hens’ eggs, ducks’ eggs, goose eggs. The temperature must be kept
from 102° to 104°. The lamps blazed up a little on the first day, but
after that we kept the heat exactly right by daily watching and night
vigils. It engrossed most of the time of four able-bodied victims.

Nothing ever was developed. The eggs were probably cooked that first

Now I’m vainly seeking for a purchaser for my I. and B. Terms of sale
very reasonable. Great reduction from original price; shall no doubt be
forced to give them away to banish painful recollections.

I also invested in turkeys, geese, and peacocks, and a pair of guinea
hens to keep hawks away.

For long weary months the geese seemed the only fowls truly at home
on my farm. They did their level best. Satisfied that my hens would
neither lay nor set, I sent to noted poultry fanciers for “settings” of
eggs at three dollars per thirteen, then paid a friendly “hen woman”
for assisting in the mysterious evolution of said eggs into various
interesting little families old enough to be brought to me.

Many and curious were the casualties befalling these young broods.
Chickens are subject to all the infantile diseases of children and
many more of their own, and mine were truly afflicted. _Imprimis_,
most would not hatch; the finest Brahma eggs contained the commonest
barn-yard fowls. Some stuck to the shell, some were drowned in a saucer
of milk, some perished because no lard had been rubbed on their heads,
others passed away discouraged by too much lard. Several ate rose bugs
with fatal results; others were greedy as to gravel and agonized with
distended crops till released by death. They had more “sand” than was
good for them. They were raised on “Cat Hill,” and five were captured
by felines, and when the remnant was brought to me they disappeared day
by day in the most puzzling manner until we caught our mischievous pug,
“Tiny Tim,” holding down a beautiful young Leghorn with his cruel paw
and biting a piece out of her neck.

So they left me, one by one, like the illusions of youth, until there
was no “survival of the fittest.”

In a ragged old barn opposite, a hen had stolen her nest and brought
out seventeen vigorous chicks. I paid a large bill for the care of
what might have been a splendid collection, and meekly bought that
faithful old hen with her large family. It is now a wonder to me that
any chickens arrive at maturity. Fowls are afflicted with parasitic
wrigglers in their poor little throats. The disease is called “gapes,”
because they try to open their bills for more air until a red worm
in the trachea causes suffocation. This horrid red worm, called
scientifically _Scelorostoma syngamus_, destroys annually _half a
million_ of chickens.

Dr. Crisp, of England, says it would be of truly national importance to
find the means of preventing its invasion.

The unpleasant results of hens and garden contiguous, Warner has
described. They are incompatible if not antagonistic. One man wisely
advises: “Fence the garden in and let the chickens run, as the man
divided the house with his quarrelsome wife, by taking the inside
himself and giving her the outside, that she might have room according
to her strength.”

Looking over the long list of diseases to which fowls are subject is
dispiriting. I am glad they can’t read them, or they would have all
at once, as J.K. Jerome, the witty playwright, decided he had every
disease found in a medical dictionary, except housemaid’s knee. Look at
this condensed list:

    DISEASES OF NERVOUS SYSTEM.—1. Apoplexy. 2. Paralysis. 3. Vertigo.
    4. Neuralgia. 5. Debility.


    DISEASES OF LOCOMOTIVE ORGANS.—1. Rheumatism. 2. Cramp. 3. Gout. 4.
    Leg weakness. 5. Paralysis of legs. 6. Elephantiasis.

    Next, diseases caused by parasites.

    Then, injuries.

    Lastly, miscellaneous.

I could add a still longer list of unclassified ills: Homesickness,
fits, melancholia, corns, blindness from fighting too much, etc.

Now that I have learned to raise chickens, it is a hard and slow
struggle to get any killed. I say in an off-hand manner, with assumed
nonchalance: “Ellen, I want Tom to kill a rooster at once for
tomorrow’s dinner, and I have an order from a friend for four more, so
he must select five to-night.” Then begins the trouble. “Oh,” pleads
Ellen, “don’t kill dear Dick! poor, dear Dick! That is Tom’s pet of
all; so big and handsome and knows so much! He will jump up on Tom’s
shoulder and eat out of his hand and come when he calls—and those big
Brahmas—don’t you know how they were brought up by hand, as you might
say, and they know me and hang around the door for crumbs, and that
beauty of a Wyandock, you _couldn’t_ eat _him_!” When the matter is
decided, as the guillotining is going on, Ellen and I sit listening
to the axe thuds and the death squaks, while she wrings her hands,
saying: “O dearie me! What a world—the dear Lord ha’ mercy on us poor
creatures! What a thing to look into, that we must kill the poor
innocents to eat them. And they were so tame and cunning, and would
follow me all around!” Then I tell her of the horrors of the French
Revolution to distract her attention from the present crisis, and
alluded to the horrors of cannibalism recently disclosed in Africa.
Then I fall into a queer reverie and imagine how awful it would be if
we should ever be called to submit to a race of beings as much larger
than we are as we are above the fowls. I almost hear such a monster of
a house-wife, fully ninety feet high, say to a servant, looking sternly
and critically at me:

“That fat, white creature must be killed; just eats her old head
off—will soon be too tough”—Ugh! Here Tom comes with five headless
fowls. Wasn’t that a weird fancy of mine?

Truly “Me and Crankin’s two different critters.”

From the following verse, quoted from a recent poultry magazine, I
conclude that I must be classed as a “chump.” As it contains the secret
of success in every undertaking, it should be committed to memory by
all my readers.

  “Grit makes the man,
  The want of it the chump.
  The men who win,
  Lay hold, hang on, and hump.”



    “But stop,” says the courteous and prudent reader, “are there any
    such things as ghosts?”

    “Any ghostesses!” cries Superstition, who settled long since in the
    country, near a church yard on a “rising ground,” “any ghostesses!
    Ay, man, lots on ’em! Bushels on ’em! Sights on ’em! Why, there’s
    one as walks in our parish, reglar as the clock strikes twelve—and
    always the same round, over church-stile, round the corner, through
    the gap, into Shorts Spinney, and so along into our close, where he
    takes a drink at the pump—for ye see he died in liquor, and then
    arter he squenched hisself, wanishes into waper.

    “Then there’s the ghost of old Beales, as goes o’ nights and sows
    tares in his neighbor’s wheat—I’ve often seed ’em in seed time.
    They do say that Black Ben, the poacher, have riz, and what’s more,
    walked slap through all the squire’s steel traps, without springing
    on ’em. And then there’s Bet Hawkey as murdered her own infant—only
    the poor little babby hadn’t learned to walk, and so can’t appear
    ag’in her.”

    THOMAS HOOD, _The Grimsby Ghost_.

That dark little room I described as so convenient during a terrific
thunderstorm or the prowling investigations of a burglar, began after
a while to get mysterious and uncanny, and I disliked, nay, dreaded to
enter it after dark. It was so still, so black, so empty, so chilly
with a sort of supernatural chill, so silent, that imagination conjured
up sounds such as I had never heard before. I had been told of an
extremely old woman, a great-great-grandmother, bed-ridden, peevish,
and weak-minded, who had occupied that room for nearly a score of
years, apparently forgotten by fate, and left to drag out a monotonous,
weary existence on not her “mattress grave” (like the poet Heine),
but on an immensely thick feather bed; only a care, a burden, to her

As twilight came on, I always carefully closed that door and shut the
old lady in to sleep by herself. For it seemed that she was still
there, still propped up in an imaginary bed, mumbling incoherently of
the past, or moaning out some want, or calling for some one to bring a
light, as she used to.

Once in a while, they told me, she would regain her strength
suddenly and astonish the family by appearing at the door. When the
grand-daughter was enjoying a Sunday night call from her “intended” it
was rather embarrassing.

I said nothing to my friends about this unpleasant room. But several
were susceptible to the strange influence. One thought she should not
mind so much if the door swung open, and a _portière_ concealed the
gloom. So a cheerful cretonne soon was hung. Then the fancy came that
the curtain stirred and swayed as if some one or something was groping
feebly with ghostly or ghastly fingers behind it. And one night, when
sitting late and alone over the embers of my open fire, feeling a
little forlorn, I certainly heard moans coming from that direction.

It was not the wind, for, although it was late October and the breezes
were sighing over summer’s departure, this sound was entirely different
and distinct. Then (and what a shiver ran down my back!) I remembered
hearing that a woman had been killed by falling down the steep cellar
stairs, and the spot on the left side where she was found unconscious
and bleeding had been pointed out to me. There, I heard it again!
Was it the wraith of the aged dame or the cries of that unfortunate
creature? Hush! Ellen can’t have fallen down!

I am really scared; the lamp seems to be burning dim and the last coal
has gone out. Is it some restless spirit, so unhappy that it must moan
out its weary plaint? I ought to be brave and go at once and look
boldly down the cellar stairs and draw aside that waving _portière_.
Oh, dear! If I only had some one to go with me and hold a light
and—there it is—the third time. Courage vanished. It might be some
dreadful tramp hiding and trying to drive me up-stairs, so he could get
the silver, and he would gladly murder me for ten cents—

“Tom,” I cried. “Tom, come here.” But Tom, my six-footer factotum, made
no response.

I could stand it no longer—the _portière_ seemed fairly alive, and I
rushed out to the kitchen where Ellen sat reading the _Ledger_, deep in
the horrors of The Forsaken Inn. “Ellen, I’m ashamed, but I’m really
frightened. I do believe somebody is in that horrid dark room, or in
the cellar, and where _is_ Tom?

“Bedad, Miss, and you’ve frightened the heart right out o’ me. It might
be a ghost, for there are such things (Heaven help us!), and I’ve seen
’em in this country and in dear old Ireland, and so has Tom.”

“You’ve seen ghosts?”

“Yes, indeed, Miss, but I’ve never spoke to any, for you’ve no right to
speak to a ghost, and if you do you will surely die.” Tom now came in
and soon satisfied me that there was no living thing in the darkness,
so I sat down and listened to Ellen’s experiences with ghosts.

THE FORMER MRS. WILKES.—“Now this happened in New York city, Miss, in
West 28th Street, and is every word true, for, my dear, I saw it with
my own eyes. I went to bed, about half-past nine it was this night,
and I was lying quietly in bed, looking up to the ceiling; no light on
account of the mosquitoes, and Maud, the little girl I was caring for,
a romping dear of seven or eight, a motherless child, had been tossing
about restless like, and her arm was flung over me. All at once I saw
a lady standing by the side of the bed in her night dress and looking
earnestly at the child beyond me. She then came nearer, took Maud’s arm
off me, and gently straightened her in bed, then stroked her face, both
cheeks—fondly, you know—and then stood and looked at the child. I said
not a word, but I wasn’t one bit afraid for I thought it was a living
lady. I could tell the color of her eyes and hair and just how she
looked every way. In the morning I described her to Mrs. Wilkes, and
asked, ‘Is there any strange lady in the house?’ ‘No, Ellen. Why?’ she
said. Then I said: ‘Why, there certainly was a pleasant-looking lady in
my room last night, in her night dress, and she patted Maud as if she
thought a sight of her.’

“‘Why,’ said my mistress, ‘that is surely the former Mrs. Wilkes!’

“She said that the older daughter had seen her several times standing
before her glass, fixing her hair and looking at herself, but if she
spoke to her or tried to speak, her mother would take up something and
shake it at her. And once when we were going up-stairs together Alice
screamed, and said that her mother was at the top of the stairs and
blew her cold breath right down on her. The stepmother started to give
her her slipper, but the father pitied her and would not allow her to
be whipped, and said ‘I’ll go up to bed with you, Alice.’”

“Did you ever see the lady in white again, Ellen?”

“Never, Ma’am, nor did I ever see any other ghost in this country that
I was sure was a ghost, but—Ireland, dear old Ireland, oh, that’s
an ancient land, and they have both ghosts and fairies and banshees
too, and many’s the story I’ve heard over there, and from my own dear
mother’s lips, and she would not tell a lie (Heaven rest her soul!),
and I’ve seen them myself over there, and so has Tom and his brother
too, Miss. Oh, many’s the story I could tell!”

“Well, Ellen, let me have one of your own—your very best.” And I went
for pencil and pad.

“And are ye going to pin down my story. Well, Miss, if ye take it just
as I say, and then fix it proper to be read, they’ll like it, for
people are crazy now to get the true ghost stories of dear old Ireland.
O Miss, when you go over, don’t forget my native place. It has a real
castle and a part of it is haunted, and the master doesn’t like to live
there—only comes once a year or so, for hunting—and the rabbits there
are as thick as they can be and the river chuck full of fish, but no
one can touch any game, or even take out one fish, or they would be

“Yes, Ellen it’s hard, and all wrong, but we are wandering away from
your ghosts, and you know I am going to take notes. So begin.”

“Well, Miss, I was a sort of companion or maid to a blind lady in my
own town. I slept in a little room just across the landing from hers,
so as to always be within reach of her. I was just going to bed, when
she called for me to come in and see if there was something in the
room—something alive, she thought, that had been hopping, hopping all
around her bed, and frightened her dreadfully, poor thing, for, you
remember, she was stone blind, Miss, which made it worse. So I hurried
in and I shook the curtains, looked behind the bureau and under the
bed, and tried everywhere for whatever might be hopping around, but
could find nothing and heard not a sound. While I was there all was
still. Then I went into my room again, and left the door open, as I
thought Miss Lacy would feel more comfortable about it, and I was
hardly in my bed when she called again and screamed out with fear, for
It was hopping round the bed. She said I must go down-stairs and bring
a candle. So I had to go down-stairs to the pantry all alone and get
the candle. Then I searched as before, but found nothing—not a thing.
Well, my dear, I went into my room and kept my candle lighted this
time. The third time she called me she was standing on her pillow,
shivering with fright, and begged me to bring the light. It was sad,
because she was stone blind. She told me how It went hopping around the
room, with its legs tied like. And after looking once more and finding
nothing, she said I’d have to sleep in the bed with her and bring a
chair near the bed and put the lighted candle on it. For a long time
we kept awake, and watched and listened, but nothing happened, nothing
appeared. We kept awake as long as we could, but at last our eyes grew
very heavy, and the lady seemed to feel more easy. So I snuffed out the
candle. Out It hopped and kept a jumping on one leg like from one side
to the other. We were so much afraid we covered our faces; we dreaded
to see It, so we hid our eyes under the sheet, and she clung on to me
all shaking; she felt worse because she was blind.

“We fell asleep at daylight, and when I told Monk, the butler, he said
it was a corpse, sure—a corpse whose legs had been tied to keep them
straight and the cords had not been taken off, the feet not being
loosened. Why my own dear mother, that’s dead many a year (Heaven bless
her departed spirit!)—she would never tell a word that was not true—she
saw a ghost hopping in that way, tied-like, jumping around a bed—blue
as a blue bag; just after the third day she was buried, and my mother
(the Lord bless her soul!) told me the sons went to her grave and
loosened the cords and she never came back any more. Isn’t it awful?
And, bedad, Miss, it’s every word true. I can tell you of a young man
I knew who looked into a window at midnight (after he had been playing
cards, Miss, gambling with the other boys) and saw something awful
strange, and was turned by ghosts into a _shadow_.”

This seemed to be a thrilling theme, such as Hawthorne would have been
able to weave into the weirdest of weird tales, and I said, “Go on.”

“Well, he used to go playing cards about three miles from his home with
a lot of young men, for his mother wouldn’t have cards played in her
house, and she thought it was wicked, and begged him not to play. It’s
a habit with the young men of Ireland—don’t know as it’s the same in
other countries—and they play for a goose or a chicken. They go to some
vacant house to get away from their fathers, they’re so against it at
home. Why, my brother-in-law used to go often to such a house on the
side of a country road. Each man would in turn provide the candles to
play by, and as this house was said to be haunted, bedad they had it
all to themselves. Well, this last night that ever they played there—it
was Tom’s own brother that told me this—just as they were going to
deal the cards, a tall gentleman came out from a room that had been
the kitchen. He walked right up to them—he was dressed in black cloth
clothes, and wore a high black hat—and came right between two of the
men and told them to deal out the cards. They were too frightened even
to speak, so the stranger took the cards himself and dealt around to
each man. And afterward he played with them; then he looked at every
man in turn and walked out of the room. As soon as he cleared out of
the place, the men all went away as quick as ever they could, and
didn’t stop to put out the lights. Each man cleared with himself and
never stopped to look behind. And no one cared to play cards in that
house afterward any more. That was Tom’s own brother; and now the poor
young man who was going home at midnight saw a light in one of the
houses by the road, so he turned toward it, thinking to light his pipe.
Just before knocking, he looked in at the window. As soon as he peeped
in the light went out on him, and still he could see crowds of people,
as thick as grass, just as you see ’em at a fair—so thick they hadn’t
room to stand—and they kept swaying back and forth, courtesying like.
The kitchen was full, and looking through a door he saw a lot more of
fine ladies and gentlemen; they were laughing and having great fun,
running round the table setting out cups and saucers, just as if they
were having a ball. Just then a big side-board fell over with a great
crash, and all the fine people scampered away, and all was dark. So
he turned away on his heel and was so frightened, his mother said, he
could hardly get home from fear, and he had three whole miles to go.
Next day he was thrashing corn in the barn and something upset him and
pitched him head foremost across the flail. He rose, and three times he
was pitched like that across the flail, so he gave up and went home.
His mother asked him: ‘Johnny, what is the matter with you? You do look
very bad!’ So he up and told her what had happened to him in the barn,
and what he saw the night before. And he took suddenly sick and had to
keep his bed for nine weeks, and when he got up and was walking around,
he wasn’t himself any more, and the sister says to the mother: ‘Mother,
I’m sure that it isn’t Johnny that’s there. It’s only his shadow, for
when I look at him, it isn’t his features or face, but the face of
another thing. He used to be so pleasant and cheerful, but now he looks
like quite another man. Mother,’ said she, ‘we haven’t Johnny at all.’
Soon he got a little stronger and went to the capital town with corn.
Several other men went also to get their corn ground. They were all
coming home together a very cold night, and the men got up and sat on
their sacks of corn. The other horses walked on all right with them,
but Johnny’s horses wouldn’t move, not one step while he was on top of
the load. Well, my dear, he called for the rest to come and help him—to
see if the horses would go for them. But they would not move one step,
though they whipped them and shouted at them to start on, for Johnny
he was as heavy as lead. And he had to get down. Soon as he got down,
the horses seemed glad and went off on a gallop after the rest of the
train. So they all went off together, and Johnny wandered away into the
bogs. His friends supposed, of course, he was coming on, thought he was
walking beside his load; the snow was falling down, and perhaps they
were a little afraid. He was left behind. They scoured the country for
him next day, and, bedad, they found him, stiff dead, sitting against
a fence. There’s where they found him. They brought him on a door to
his mother. Oh, it was a sad thing to see—to see her cry and hear her

“And what more?” I asked.

“That’s all. He was waked and buried, and that’s what he got for
playing cards! And that’s all as true as ever could be true, for it’s
myself knew the old mother, and she told me it her very self, and she
cried many tears for her son.”



    But the sheep shearing came, and the hay season next, and then the
    harvest of small corn ... then the sweating of the apples, and the
    turning of the cider mill and the stacking of the firewood, and
    netting of the wood-cocks, and the springes to be mended in the
    garden and by the hedgerows, where the blackbirds hop to the
    molehills in the white October mornings and gray birds come to look
    for snails at the time when the sun is rising. It is wonderful how
    Time runs away when all these things, and a great many others, come
    in to load him down the hill, and prevent him from stopping to look
    about. And I, for my part, can never conceive how people who live in
    towns and cities, where neither lambs nor birds are (except in some
    shop windows), nor growing corn, nor meadow grass, nor even so much
    as a stick to cut, or a stile to climb and sit down upon—how these
    poor folk get through their lives without being utterly weary of
    them, and dying from pure indolence, is a thing God only knows, if
    his mercy allows him to think of it.


A farm-house looks on the outside like a quiet place. No men are seen
about, front windows are closely shaded, front door locked. Go round to
the back door; nobody seems to be at home. If by chance you do find,
after long bruising of knuckles, that you have roused an inmate, it is
some withered, sad-faced old dame, who is indifferent and hopelessly
deaf, or a bare-footed, stupid urchin, who stares as if you had dropped
from another planet, and a cool “Dunno” is the sole response to all

All seems at a dead standstill. In reality everything and everybody is
going at full speed, transpiring and perspiring to such a degree that,
like a swiftly whirling top, it does not appear to move.

Friends think of me as not living, but simply existing, and marvel that
I can endure such monotony. On the contrary, I live in a constant state
of excitement, hurry, and necessity for immediate action.

The cows were continually getting out of pasture and into the corn; the
pigs, like the chickens, evinced decided preference for the garden.
The horse would break his halter and dart down the street, or, if in
pasture, would leap the barbed-wire fence, at the risk of laming his
legs for life, and dash into a neighbor’s yard where children and
babies were sunning on the grass.

Rival butchers and bakers would drive up simultaneously from different
directions and plead for patronage and instant attention.

The vegetables must be gathered and carried to market; every animal was
ravenously hungry at all hours, and didn’t hesitate to speak of it. The
magnificent peacock would wander off two miles, choosing the railroad
track for his rambles, and loved to light on Si Evans’s barn; then a
boy must be detailed to recover the prize bird, said boy depending on
a reward. His modest-hued consort would seek the deep hedges back of a
distant swamp.

Friends would come from a distance to surprise and cheer me in my
lonely retreat just at the time that the butter must positively be
made, while the flowers were choking for water, smothered with weeds,
“pus’ley,” of course, pre-eminent. Then a book agent would appear,
blind, but doubly persistent, with a five-dollar illustrated volume
recounting minutely the Johnstown horror. And one of my dogs would be
apt at this crisis to pursue and slay a chicken or poison himself with
fly-paper. Every laboring man for miles around would come with an air
of great importance to confidentially warn me against every other man
that could be employed, with the stereotyped phrase in closing: “Well,
whatever you do” (as if I might be left to do anything) “don’t hire
John Smallpate or Bill Storer. I’ve known him, man and boy, for thirty
years; you’ll do well not to trust _him_!”

Yet these same men who had so villified each other could be seen
nightly lounging in front of the grocery, discussing politics and
spitting in sweet unison.

The general animosity of my entire family to each other caused constant

“Sandy,” the handsome setter, loathed the pug, and tried to bite his
neck in a fatal way. He also chased the rabbits, trod on young turkeys
so that they were no more, drove the cat out of the barn and up a tree,
barked madly at the cows, enraging those placid animals, and doted on
frightening the horse.

The cat allowed mice to roam merrily through the grain bins, preferring
robins and sparrows, especially young and happy mothers, to a proper
diet; was fond of watching the chickens with wicked, malicious, greedy,
dangerous eyes, and was always ready to make a sly spring for my

The rabbits (pretty innocent little creatures I had thought them, as
I gazed at their representatives of white canton flannel, solidly
stuffed, with such charming eyes of pink beads) girded all my young
trees and killed them before I dreamed of such mischief, nibbled at
every tender sprout, every swelling bud, were so agile that they could
not be captured, and became such a maddening nuisance that I hired a
boy to take them away. I fully understand the recent excitement of the
Australians over the rabbit scourge which threatened to devastate their

The relations were strained between my cows; mother and daughter of a
noble line; they always fed at opposite corners of the field, indulging
in serious fights when they met.

My doves! I am almost ready to say that they were more annoying than
all the rest of my motley collection, picked all seeds out of the
ground faster than they could be put in, so large spaces sowed with
rye lay bare all summer, and ate most of the corn and grain that was
intended to fatten and stimulate my fowls.

Doves are poetical and pleasing, pigeons ditto—in literature, and at
a safe distance from one’s own barn. It’s a pretty sight at sunset
on a summer’s eve to see them poising, wheeling, swirling, round a
neighbor’s barn. Their rainbow hues gleam brightly in the sun as they
preen their feathers or gently “coo-oo, I love oo,” on the ridge
pole. I always longed to own some, but now the illusion is past. They
have been admired and petted for ages, consecrated as emblems of
innocence and peace and sanctity, regarded as almost sacred from the
earliest antiquity. They have been idealized and praised from Noah to
Anacreon, both inclined to inebriety! But in reality they are a dirty,
destructive, greedy lot, and though fanciers sell them at high prices,
they only command twenty-five cents per pair when sold for the market!

The hens lost half their feathers, often an eye, occasionally a
life, in deadly feuds. My spunky little bantam game cock was always
challenging one of my monster roosters and laying him low, so he had to
be sent away.

John, my eccentric assistant, could abide no possible rival, insulted
every man engaged to help him, occasionally indulging in a free fight
after too frequent visits to the cider barrels of my next neighbor, so
he had to follow the bantam.

Another distress was the constant calls of natives with the most
undesirable things for me to buy; two or three calls daily for a long
time. Boys with eager, ingenuous faces bringing carrier pigeons—pretty
creatures—and I had been told there was money in pigeons. I paid them
extortionate prices on account of extreme ignorance; and the birds,
of course, flew home as soon as released, to be bought again by some
gullible amateur. I had omitted to secure the names and addresses of
these guileless lads.

A sandy-haired, lisping child with chronic catarrh offered me a lot of
pet _rats_!

“I hear you like pets,” she said, “Well, I’ve got some tame rats, a
father and mother and thirteen little ones, and a mother with four.
They’re orful cunning. Hope you’ll take ’em.”

A big, red-faced, black-bearded, and determined man drove one day into
the yard with an immense wagon, in which was standing a stupid, vicious
old goat, and almost insisted on leaving it at a most ridiculously high

“Heard that the woman that had come to live here wanted most every
animal that Noah got into the ark; was sure she’d like a goat.” It was
with considerable difficulty that he could be induced to take it away.

Dogs, dogs, dogs—from mastiff to mongrel, from St. Bernard to toy
poodle—the yard really swarmed with them just before the first of May,
when dog taxes must be paid!

A crow that could talk, but rather objectionably, was offered me.

A pert little boy, surrounded by his equally pert mates, said, after
coming uninvited to look over my assortment: “Got most everything,
hain’t ye? Got a monkey?”

Then his satellites all giggled.

“No, not yet. Will not _you_ come in?”

Second giggle, less hearty.

A superannuated clergyman walked three miles and a quarter in a heavy
rain, minus umbrella, to bring me a large and common pitcher, badly
cracked and of no original value; heard I was collecting old china.
Then, after making a long call, drew out a tiny package from his vest
pocket and offered for sale two time-worn cheap rings taken from his
mother’s dead hand. They were mere ghosts of rings that had once meant
so much of joy or sorrow, pathetic souvenirs, one would think, to a
loving son. He would also sell me his late father’s old sermons for a
good sum!

This reminded me of Sydney Smith’s remark to an old lady who was sorely
afflicted with insomnia: “Have you ever tried one of my sermons?”

Perhaps I have said enough to prove that life in a bucolic solitude may
be something more varied than is generally—don’t let that old peddler
come into the house, say we want nothing, and then tell the ladies I’ll
be down directly—and, O _Ellen_, call Tom! Those ducks are devouring
his new cabbage-plants and one of the calves has got over the stone
wall and—what?

“He’s gone to Dog Corner for the cow-doctor.”

—Yes, more varied than is generally supposed!



    A life whose parlors have always been closed.


    Sunshine is tabooed in the front room of the house. The “damp
    dignity” of the best-room has been well described: “Musty smells,
    stiffness, angles, absence of sunlight. What is there to talk about
    in a room dark as the Domdaniel, except where one crack in a
    reluctant shutter reveals a stand of wax flowers under glass, and a
    dimly descried hostess who evidently waits only your departure to
    extinguish that solitary ray?”

At a recent auction I obtained twenty-one volumes of State Agricultural
Reports for seventeen cents; and what I read in them of the Advantages
of Rural Pursuits, The Dignity of Labor, The Relation of Agriculture
to Longevity and to Nations, and, above all, of the Golden Egg, seem
decidedly florid, unpractical, misleading, and very little permanent
popularity can be gained by such self-interested buncombe from these
eloquent orators.

The idealized farmer, as he is depicted by these white-handed
rhetoricians who, like John Paul, “would never lay hand to a plow,
unless said plow should actually pursue him to a second story, and
then lay hands on it only to throw it out of the window,” and the
phlegmatic, overworked, horny-handed tillers of the soil are no more
alike than Fenimore Cooper’s handsome, romantic, noble, and impressive
red man of the forest and the actual Sioux or Apache, as regarded by
the cowboy of the West.

It’s all work, with no play and no proper pay, for Western competition
now prevents all chance of decent profits. Little can be laid up for
old age, except by the most painful economy and daily scrimping; and
how can the children consent to stay on, starving body and soul?
_That_ explains the 3,318 abandoned farms in Maine at present. And the
farmers’ wives! what monotonous, treadmill lives! Constant toil with no
wages, no allowance, no pocket money, no vacations, no pleasure trips
to the city nearest them, little of the pleasures of correspondence;
no time to write, unless a near relative is dead or dying. Some one
says that their only chance for social life is in going to some insane
asylum! There have been four cases of suicide in farmers’ families near
me within eighteen months.

This does not apply to the fortunate farmer who inherited money and is
shrewd enough to keep and increase it. Nor to the market gardener, who
raises vegetables under glass; nor to the owners of large nurseries.
These do make a good living, and are also able to save something.

In general, it is all one steady rush of work from March to November;
unceasing, uncomplaining activity for the barest support, followed by
three months of hibernation and caring for the cattle. Horace Greeley
said: “If our most energetic farmers would abstract ten hours each
per week from their incessant drudgery and devote them to reading and
reflection in regard to their noble calling, they would live to a
better purpose and bequeath better examples to their children.”

It may have been true long years ago that no shares, factory, bank,
or railroad paid better dividends than the plowshare, but it is the
veriest nonsense now.

Think of the New England climate in summer. Rufus Choate describes it
eloquently: “Take the climate of New England in summer, hot to-day,
cold to-morrow, mercury at eighty degrees in the shade in the morning,
with a sultry wind southwest. In three hours more a sea turn, wind at
east, a thick fog from the bottom of the ocean, and a fall of forty
degrees. Now so dry as to kill all the beans in New Hampshire, then
floods carrying off all the dams and bridges on the Penobscot and
Androscoggin. Snow in Portsmouth in July, and the next day a man and
a yoke of oxen killed by lightning in Rhode Island. You would think
the world was coming to an end. But we go along. Seed time and harvest
never fail. We have the early and the latter rains; the sixty days of
hot corn weather are pretty sure to be measured out to us; the Indian
summer, with its bland south winds and mitigated sunshine, brings all
up, and about the 25th of November, being Thursday, a grateful people
gather about the Thanksgiving board, with hearts full of gratitude for
the blessings that have been vouchsafed to them.”

Poets love to sing of the sympathy of Nature. I think she is decidedly
at odds with the farming interests of the country. At any rate, her
antipathy to me was something intense and personal. That mysterious
stepmother of ours was really riled by my experiments and determined to
circumvent every agricultural ambition.

She detailed a bug for every root, worms to build nests on every tree,
others to devour every leaf, insects to attack every flower, drought or
deluge to ruin the crops, grasshoppers to finish everything that was

Potato bugs swooped down on my fields by tens of thousands, and when
somewhat thinned in ranks by my unceasing war, would be re-enforced
from a neighbor’s fields, once actually fording my lakelet to get to
my precious potato patch. The number and variety of devouring pests
connected with each vegetable are alarming. Here are a few connected
closely with the homely cabbage, as given by a noted helminthologist
under the head of “Cut-worms”:

“Granulated,” “shagreened,” “white,” “marked,” “greasy,” “glassy,”
“speckled,” “variegated,” “wavy,” “striped,” “harlequin,” “imbricated,”
“tarnished.” The “snout beetle” is also a deadly foe.

To realize this horror, this worse than Pharaoh plague, you must either
try a season of farming or peruse octavo volumes on Insects injurious
to Vegetation, fully illustrated.

In those you may gain a faint idea of the “skippers,” “stingers,”
“soothsayers,” “walking sticks or specters,” “saw flies and slugs,”
“boring caterpillars,” “horn-tailed wood wasps,” etc., etc., etc.,
etc., etc.—a never-ending list. The average absolute loss of the
farmers of this country from such pests is fully one million dollars
per annum.

Gail Hamilton said of her squashes:

“They appeared above-ground, large-lobed and vigorous. Large and
vigorous appeared the bugs, all gleaming in green and gold, like the
wolf on the fold, and stopped up all the stomata and ate up all the
parenchyma, till my squash-leaves looked as if they had grown for the
sole purpose of illustrating net-veined organizations. A universal bug
does not indicate a special want of skill in any one.”

Not liking to crush the bug between thumb and finger as advised, she
tried drowning them. She says: “The moment they touched the water they
all spread unseen wings and flew away. I should not have been much more
surprised to see Halicarnassus soaring over the ridge pole. I had not
the slightest idea they could fly.”

Then the aphides! Exhausters of strength—vine fretters—plant
destroyers! One aphis, often the progenitor of over five thousand
million aphides in a single season. This seems understated, but I
accept it as the aphidavit of another noted helminthologist. I might
have imagined Nature had a special grudge against me if I had not
recalled Emerson’s experience. He says: “With brow bent, with firm
intent, I go musing in the garden walk. I stoop to pick up a weed that
is choking the corn, find there were two; close behind is a third, and
I reach out my arm to a fourth; behind that there are four thousand and

“Rose bugs and wasps appear best when flying. I admired them most when
flying away from my garden.”

Horace Greeley said that “No man who harbors caterpillars has any moral
right to apples.” But one sees whole orchards destroyed in this way
for lack of time to attack such a big job. Farmers have been unjustly
attacked by city critics who do not understand the situation. There was
much fine writing last year in regard to the sin and shame of cutting
down the pretty, wild growth of shrubs, vines, and flowers along the
wayside, so picturesque to the summer tourist. The tangle of wild
grape, clematis, and woodbine is certainly pretty, but underneath is
sure to be found a luxuriant growth of thistle, wild carrot, silk weed,
mullein, chickweed, tansy, and plantain, which, if allowed to seed and
disseminate themselves, would soon ruin the best farms. There is a
deadly foe, an army of foes, hiding under these luxuriant festoons and
masses of cheerful flowers.

Isn’t it strange and sad and pitiful, that it is the summer guest who
alone enjoys the delights of summering in the country? There is no time
for rest, for recreation, for flowers, for outdoor pleasures, for the
average farmer and his family. You seldom see any bright faces at the
windows, which are seldom opened—only a glimpse here and there of a
sad, haggard creature, peering out for curosity. Strange would it be to
hear peals of merry laughter; stranger still to see a family enjoying
a meal on the piazza or a game on the grass. As for flowers, they are
valued no more than weeds; the names of the most common are unknown. I
asked in vain a dozen people last summer, what that flower was called,
pointing to the ubiquitous Joe Rye weed or pink motherwort. At last I
asked one man, who affected to know everything—

“Oh, yes, I know it.”

“What is it?” I persisted.

“Well, I know it just as well, but can’t just now get the name out.” A
pause, then, with great superiority: “I’d rather see a potato field in
full bloom, than all the flowers in the world.”

Perhaps some of Tolstoi’s disciples may yet solve the problem of New
England’s abandoned farms. He believes that every able-bodied man
should labor with his own hands and in “the sweat of his brow” to
produce his own living direct from the soil. He dignifies agriculture
above all other means of earning a living, and would have artificial
employments given up. “Back to the land,” he cries; and back he really
goes, daily working with the peasants. But ’tis a solemn, almost
tragical experience, not much better than the fate of the Siberian
exile. Rise at dawn; work till dark; eat—go to bed too tired to read a
paper;—and no money in it.

Let these once prosperous farms be given up to Swedish colonies, hard
working and industrious, who can do better here than in their own
country and have plenty of social life among themselves, or let wealthy
men purchase half a dozen of these places to make a park, or two score
for a hunting ground—or let unattached women of middle age occupy them
and support themselves by raising poultry. Men are making handsome
incomes from this business—women can do the same. The language of the
poultry magazines, by the way, is equally sentimental and efflorescent
with that of the speeches at agricultural fairs, sufficiently so to
sicken one who has once accepted it as reliable, as for instance: “The
individual must be very abnormal in his tastes if they can not be
catered to by our feathered tribe.” “To their owner they are a thing of
beauty and a joy forever. Their ways are interesting, their language
fascinating, and their lives from the egg to the mature fowl replete
with constant surprises.”[1]

[Footnote 1: This clause is true.]

“To simply watch them as they pass from stage to stage of development
fills the mind of every sane person with pleasure.” One poultry crank
insists that each hen must be so carefully studied that she can be
understood and managed as an individual, and speaks of his hens having
at times an “anxious nervous expression!”

“Yes, it is where the hens sing all the day long in the barn-yard that
throws off the stiff ways of our modern civilization and makes us feel
that we are home and can rest and play and grow young once more. How
many men and women have regained lost health and spirits in keeping
hens, in the excitement of finding and gathering eggs!”

“It is not the natural laying season when snows lie deep on field and
hill, when the frost tingles in sparkling beads from every twig, when
the clear streams bear up groups of merry skaters,” etc.

After my pathetic experience with chickens, who after a few days of
downy content grew ill, and gasped until they gave up the ghost;
ducklings, who progressed finely for several weeks, then turned over
on their backs and flopped helplessly unto the end; or, surviving
that critical period, were found in the drinking trough, “drowned,
dead, because they couldn’t keep their heads above water”; turkeys who
flourished to a certain age, then grew feeble and phantom-like and
faded out of life, I weary of gallinaceous rhodomontade, and crave
“pointers” for my actual needs.

I still read “Crankin’s” circulars with a thrill of enthusiasm because
his facts are so cheering. For instance, from his latest: “We have
some six thousand ducklings out now, confined in yards with wire
netting eighteen inches high. The first lot went to market May 10th
and netted forty cents per pound. These ducklings were ten weeks old
and dressed on an average eleven pounds per pair. One pair dressed
fourteen pounds.” Isn’t that better than selling milk at two and a half
cents per quart? And no money can be made on vegetables unless they
are raised under glass in advance of the season. I know, for did I not
begin with “pie plant,” with which every market was glutted, at one
cent per pound, and try the entire list, with disgustingly low prices,
exposed to depressing comparison and criticism? When endeavoring to
sell, one of the visiting butchers, in reply to my petition that he
would buy some of my vegetables, said: “Well now, Marm, you see just
how it is; I’ve got more’n I can sell now, and women keep offering more
all the way along. I tell ’em I can’t buy ’em, but I’ll _haul ’em off
for ye_ if ye want to get rid of ’em!” So much for market gardening at
a distance from city demands.

But ducks! Sydney Smith, at the close of his life, said he “had but
one illusion left, and that was the Archbishop of Canterbury.” I still
believe in Crankin and duck raising. Let me see: “One pair dressed
fourteen pounds, netted forty cents per pound.” I’ll order one of
Crankin’s “Monarch” incubators and begin a poultry farm anew.

“_Dido et dux_,” and so do Boston epicures. I’ll sell at private sales,
not for hotels! I used to imagine myself supplying one of the large
hotels and saw on the _menu_:

“Tame duck and apple sauce (from the famous ‘Breezy Meadows’ farm).”
But I inquired of one of the proprietors what he would give, and
“fifteen cents per pound for poultry dressed and delivered” gave me a
combined attack of chills and hysterics.

Think of _my_ chickens, from those prize hens (three dollars each)—_my_
chickens, fed on eggs hard boiled, milk, Indian meal, cracked corn,
sun-flower seed, oats, buckwheat, the best of bread, selling at fifteen
cents per pound, and I to pay express charges! Is there, is there any
“money in hens?”

To show how a child would revel in a little rational enjoyment on a
farm, read this dear little poem of James Whitcomb Riley’s:


  One time when we’s at aunty’s house—
    ’Way in the country—where
  They’s ist but woods and pigs and cows,
    An’ all’s outdoors and air!
  An orchurd swing; an’ churry trees,
    An’ _churries_ in ’em! Yes, an’ these
  Here red-head birds steal all they please
    An’ tech ’em if you dare!
  W’y wunst, one time when we wuz there,
    _We et out on the porch!_

  Wite where the cellar door wuz shut
    The table wuz; an’ I
  Let aunty set by me an’ cut
    My wittles up—an’ pie.
  Tuz awful funny! I could see
    The red heads in the churry tree;
  An’ bee-hives, where you got to be
    So keerful going by;
  An’ comp’ny there an’ all! An’ we—
    _We et out on the porch!_

  An’—I ist et _p’surves_ an’ things
    ’At ma don’t ’low me to—
  An’ chickun gizzurds (don’t like wings
    Like parunts does, do you?)
  An’ all the time the wind blowed there
    An’ I could feel it in my hair,
  An’ ist smell clover ever’where!
    An’ a old red head flew
  Purt’ nigh wite over my high chair,
    _When we et out on the porch!_



    I would rather look at a peacock than eat him. The feathers of an
    angel and the voice of a devil.

The story of this farm would not be complete without a brief rehearsal
of my experiences, exciting, varied, and tragic, resulting from the
purchase of a magnificent pair of peacocks.

My honest intention on leasing my forty-dollars-a-year paradise was
simply to occupy the quaint old house for a season or two as a relief
from the usual summer wanderings. I would plant nothing but a few hardy
flowers of the old-fashioned kind—an economical and prolonged picnic.
In this way I could easily save in three years sufficient funds to make
a grand _tour du monde_.

_That was my plan!_

For some weeks I carried out this resolution, until an event occurred,
which changed the entire current of thought, and transformed a quiet,
rural retreat into a scene of frantic activity and gigantic undertaking.

In the early summer I attended a poultry show at Rooster, Mass., and,
in a moment of impulsive enthusiasm, was so foolish as to pause and
admire and long for a prize peacock, until I was fairly and hopelessly
hypnotized by its brilliant plumage.

I reasoned: Anybody can keep hens, “me and Crankin” can raise ducks,
geese thrive naturally with me, but a peacock is a rare and glorious
possession. The proud scenes he is associated with in mythology,
history, and art rushed through my mind with whirlwind rapidity as I
stood debating the question. The favorite bird of Juno—she called the
metallic spots on its tail the eyes of Argus—imported by Solomon to
Palestine, essentially regal. Kings have used peacocks as their crests,
have worn crowns of their feathers. Queens and princesses have flirted
gorgeous peacock fans; the pavan, a favorite dance in the days of Louis
le Grand, imitated its stately step. In the days of chivalry the most
solemn oath was taken on the peacock’s body, roasted whole and adorned
with its gay feathers, as Shallow swore “by cock and pie.” I saw the
fairest of all the fair dames at a grand mediaeval banquet proudly
bearing the bird to the table. The woman who hesitates is lost. I
bought the pair, and ordered them boxed for “Breezy Meadows.”

On the arrival of the royal pair at my ’umble home, all its
surroundings began to lose the charm of rustic simplicity, and appear
shabby, inappropriate, and unendurable. It became evident that the
entire place must be raised, and at once, to the level of those

The house and barn were painted (colonial yellow) without a moment’s
delay. An ornamental piazza was added, all the paths were broadened and
graveled, and even terraces were dreamed of, as I recalled the terraces
where Lord Beaconsfield’s peacocks used to sun themselves and display
their beauties—Queen Victoria now has a screen made of their feathers.

My expensive pets felt their degradation in spite of my best efforts
and determined to sever their connection with such a plebeian place.

Beauty (I ought to have called him Absalom or Alcibiades), as soon as
let out of his traveling box, displayed to an admiring crowd a tail
so long it might be called a “serial,” gave one contemptuous glance
at the premises, and departed so rapidly, by running and occasional
flights, that three men and a boy were unable to catch up with him
for several hours. Belle was not allowed her liberty, as we saw more
trouble ahead. A large yard, inclosed top and sides with wire netting,
at last restrained their roving ambition. But they were not happy.
Peacocks disdain a “roost” and seek the top of some tall tree; they are
also rovers by nature and hate confinement. They pined and failed, and
seemed slowly dying; so I had to let them out. Total cost of peacock
hunts by the boys of the village, $11.33. I found that Beauty was happy
only when admiring himself, or deep in mischief. His chief delight was
to mount the stone wall, and utter his raucous note, again and again,
as a carriage passed, often scaring the horses into dangerous antics,
and causing severe, if not profane criticism. Or he would steal slyly
into a neighbor’s barn and kill half a dozen chickens at a time. He was
awake every morning by four o’clock, and would announce the glories of
the coming dawn by a series of ear-splitting notes, disturbing not only
all my guests, but the various families within range, until complaints
and petitions were sent in. He became a nuisance—but how could he be

And he was so gloriously handsome! Visitors from town would come
expressly to see him. School children would troop into my yard on
Saturday afternoons, “to see the peacock spread his tail,” which he
often capriciously refused to do. As soon as they departed, somewhat
disappointed in “my great moral show,” Beauty would go to a large
window on the ground floor of the barn and parade up and down,
displaying his beauties for his own gratification. At last he fancied
he saw a rival in this brilliant, irridescent reflection and pecked
fiercely at the glass, breaking several panes.

Utterly selfish, he would keep all dainty bits for himself, leaving the
scraps for his devoted mate, who would wait meekly to eat what he chose
to leave. She made up for this wifely self-abnegation by frequenting
the hen houses. She would watch patiently by the side of a hen on her
nest, and as soon as an egg was deposited, would remove it for her
luncheon. She liked raw eggs, and six were her usual limit.

There is a deal of something closely akin to human nature in barn-yard
fowls. It was irresistibly ludicrous to see the peacock strutting about
in the sunshine, his tail expanded in fullest glory, making a curious
rattle of triumph as he paraded, while my large white Holland turkey
gobbler, who had been molting severely and was almost denuded as to
tail feathers, would attempt to emulate his display, and would follow
him closely, his wattles swelling and reddening with fancied success,
making all this fuss about what had been a fine array, but now was
reduced to five scrubby, ragged, very dirty remnants of feathers. He
fancied himself equally fine, and was therefore equally happy.

Next came the molting period.

Pliny said long ago of the peacock: “When he hath lost his taile,
he hath no delight to come abroad,” but I knew nothing of this
peculiarity, supposing that a peacock’s tail, once grown, was a
permanent ornament. On the contrary, if a peacock should live one
hundred and twenty years (and his longevity is something phenomenal) he
would have one hundred and seventeen new and interesting tails—enough
to start a circulating library. Yes, Beauty’s pride and mine had a sad
fall as one by one the long plumes were dropped in road and field and
garden. He should have been caught and confined, and the feathers,
all loose at once, should have been pulled out at one big pull and
saved intact for fans and dust brushes, and adornment of mirrors and
fire-places. Soon every one was gone, and the mortified creature now
hid away in the corn, and behind shrubbery, disappearing entirely from
view, save as hunger necessitated a brief emerging.

This tailless absentee was not what I had bought as the champion prize
winner. And Belle, after laying four eggs, refused to set. But I put
them under a turkey, and, to console myself and re-enforce my position
as an owner of peacocks, I began to study peacock lore and literature.
I read once more of the throne of the greatest of all the moguls at
Delhi, India.

“The under part of the canopy is embroidered with pearls and diamonds,
with a fringe of pearls round about. On the top of the canopy, which
is made like an arch with four panes, stands a peacock with his tail
spread, consisting all of sapphires and other proper-colored stones;
the body is of beaten gold enchased with several jewels, and a great
ruby upon his breast, at which hangs a pearl that weighs fifty carats.
On each side of the peacock stand two nosegays as high as the bird,
consisting of several sorts of flowers, all of beaten gold enameled.
When the king seats himself upon the throne, there is a transparent
jewel with a diamond appendant, of eighty or ninety carats, encompassed
with rubies and emeralds, so hung that it is always in his eye. The
twelve pillars also that support the canopy are set with rows of fair
pearls, round, and of an excellent water, that weigh from six to ten
carats apiece. At the distance of four feet upon each side of the
throne are placed two parasols or umbrellas, the handles whereof are
about eight feet high, covered with diamonds; the parasols themselves
are of crimson velvet, embroidered and stringed with pearls.” This
is the famous throne which Tamerlane began and Shah Jahan finished,
which is really reported to have cost a hundred and sixty million
five hundred thousand livres (thirty-two million one hundred thousand

I also gloated over the description of that famous London dining-room,
known to the art world as the “Peacock Room,” designed by Whistler.
Panels to the right and left represent peacocks with their tails spread
fan-wise, advancing in perspective toward the spectator, one behind the
other, the peacocks in gold and the ground in blue.

I could not go so extensively into interior decoration, and my mania
for making the outside of the house and the grounds highly decorative
had received a severe lesson in the verdict, overheard by me, as I
stood in the garden, made by a gawky country couple who were out for a
Sunday drive.

As Warner once said to me, “young love in the country is a very solemn
thing,” and this shy, serious pair slowed up as they passed, to see my
place. The piazza was gay with hanging baskets, vines, strings of beads
and bells, lanterns of all hues; there were tables, little and big, and
lounging chairs and a hammock and two canaries. The brightest geraniums
blossomed in small beds through the grass, and several long flower beds
were one brilliant mass of bloom, while giant sun-flowers reared their
golden heads the entire length of the farm.

It was gay, but I had hoped to please Beauty.

“What is that?” said the girl, straining her head out of the carriage.

“Don’t know,” said the youth, “guess it’s a store.”

The girl scrutinized the scene as a whole, and said decisively:

“No, ’taint, Bill—it’s a saloon!”

That was a cruel blow! I forgot my flowers, walked in slowly and sadly
and carried in two lanterns to store in the shed chamber. I also
resolved to have no more flower beds in front of the house, star shaped
or diamond—they must all be sodded over.

That opinion of my earnest efforts to effect a renaissance at
Gooseville—to show how a happy farm home should look to the
passer-by—in short, my struggle to “live up to” the peacocks revealed,
as does a lightning flash on a dark night, much that I had not
perceived. I had made as great a mistake as the farmer who abjures
flowers and despises “fixin’ up.”

The pendulum of emotion swung as far back, and I almost disliked
the innocent cause of my decorative folly. I began to look over my
accounts, to study my check books, to do some big sums in addition, and
it made me even more depressed. Result of these mental exercises as
follows: Rent, $40 per year; incidental expenses to date, $5,713.85.
Was there any good in this silly investment of mine? Well, if it came
to the very worst, I could kill the couple and have a rare dish. Yet
Horace did not think its flesh equal to an ordinary chicken. He wrote:

  I shall ne’er prevail
  To make our men of taste a pullet choose,
  And the gay peacock with its train refuse.
  For the rare bird at mighty price is sold,
  And lo! What wonders from its tail unfold!
  But can these whims a higher gusto raise
  Unless you eat the plumage that you praise?
  Or do its glories when ’tis boiled remain?
  No; ’tis the unequaled beauty of its train,
  Deludes your eye and charms you to the feast,
  For hens and peacocks are alike in taste.

Then peacocks have been made useful in a medicinal way. The doctors
once prescribed peacock broth for pleurisy, peacocks’ tongues for
epilepsy, peacocks’ fat for colic, peacocks’ galls for weak eyes,
peahens’ eggs for gout.

It is always darkest just before dawn, and only a week from that
humiliating Sunday episode I was called by my gardener to look at
the dearest little brown something that was darting about in the
poultry yard. It was a baby peacock, only one day old. He got out
of the nest in some way, and preferred to take care of himself. How
independent, how captivating he was! As not one other egg had hatched,
he was lamentably, desperately alone, with dangers on every side,
“homeless and orphanless.” Something on that Sabbath morning recalled
Melchizedec, the priest without father or mother, of royal descent,
and of great length of days. Earnestly hoping for longevity for this
feathered mite of princely birth, I called him “Melchizedec.”

I caught him and was in his toils. He was a tiny tyrant; I was but a
slave, an attendant, a nurse, a night-watcher. Completely under his

No more work, no more leisure, no more music or tennis; my life career,
my sphere, was definitely settled. I was Kizzie’s attendant—nothing
more. People have cared for rather odd pets, as the leeches tamed and
trained by Lord Erskine; others have been deeply interested in toads,
crickets, mice, lizards, alligators, tortoises, and monkeys. Wolsey was
on familiar terms with a venerable carp; Clive owned a pet tortoise;
Sir John Lubbock contrived to win the affections of a Syrian wasp;
Charles Dudley Warner devoted an entire article in the Atlantic Monthly
to the praises of his cat Calvin; but did you ever hear of a peacock as
a household pet?

As it is the correct thing now to lie down all of a summer afternoon,
hidden by trees, and closely watch every movement of a pair of little
birds, or spend hours by a frog pond studying the sluggish life there,
and as mothers are urged by scientific students to record daily the
development of their infants in each apparently unimportant matter, I
think I may be excused for a brief sketch of my charge, for no mother
ever had a child so precocious, so wise, so willful, so affectionate,
so persistent, as Kizzie _at the same age_. Before he was three days
old, he would follow me like a dog up and down stairs and all over
the house, walk behind me as I strolled about the grounds, and when
tired, he would cry and “peep, weep” for me to sit down. Then he would
beg to be taken on my lap, thence he would proceed to my arm, then my
neck, where he would peck and scream and flutter, determined to nestle
there for a nap. My solicitude increased as he lived on, and I hoped to
“raise” him. He literally demanded every moment of my time, my entire
attention during the day, and, alas! at night also, until I seemed to
be living a tragic farce!

If put down on carpet or matting, he at once began to pick up
everything he could spy on the floor, and never before did I realize
how much could be found there. I had a dressmaker in the house, and
Kizzie was always going for a deadly danger—here a pin, there a needle,
just a step away a tack or a bit of thread or a bead of jet.

Outdoors it was even worse. With two bird dogs ready for anything but
birds, the pug that had already devoured all that had come to me of my
expensive importations, a neighbor’s cat often stealing over to hunt
for her dinner, a crisis seemed imminent every minute. Even his own
father would destroy him if they met, as the peacock allows no possible
rival. And Kizzie kept so close to my heels that I hardly dared step.
If my days were distracting, the nights were inexpressibly awful. I
supposed he would be glad to go to sleep in a natural way after a
busy day. No, indeed! He would not stay in box or basket, or anywhere
but cradled close in my neck. There he wished to remain, twittering
happily, giving now and then a sweet, little, tremulous trill,
indicative of content, warmth, and drowsiness; if I dared to move ever
so little, showing by a sharp scratch from his claws that he preferred
absolute quiet. One night, when all worn out, I rose and put him in
a hat box and covered it closely, but his piercing cries of distress
and anger prevented the briefest nap, reminding me of the old man who
said, “Yes, it’s pretty dangerous livin’ anywheres.” I was so afraid of
hurting him that I scarcely dared move. Each night we had a prolonged
battle, but he never gave in for one instant until he could roost on my
outstretched finger or just under my chin. Then he would settle down,
the conflict over, he as usual the victor, and the sweet little lullaby
would begin.

One night I rose hastily to close the windows in a sudden shower.
Kizzie wakened promptly, and actually followed me out of the room and
down-stairs. Alas! it was not far from his breakfast hour, for he
preferred his first meal at four o’clock A.M. You see how he influenced
me to rise early and take plenty of exercise.

I once heard of a wealthy Frenchman, nervous and dyspeptic, who was
ordered by his eccentric physician to buy a Barbary ostrich and imitate
him as well as care for him. And he was quickly cured!

On the other hand, it is said that animals and birds grow to be like
those who train and pet them. Christopher North (John Wilson) used to
carry a sparrow in his coat pocket. And his friends averred that the
bird grew so large and impressive that it seemed to be changing into an

But Kizzie was the stronger influence. I really grew afraid of him, as
he liked to watch my eyes, and once picked at them, as he always picked
at any shining bit.

What respect I now feel for a sober, steady-going, successful old hen,
who raises brood after brood of downy darlings without mishaps! Her
instinct is an inspiration. Kizzie liked to perch on my finger and
catch flies for his dinner. How solemn, wise, and bewitching he did
look as he snapped at and swallowed fifteen flies, uttering all the
time a satisfied little note, quite distinct from his musical slumber

How he enjoyed lying on one side, stretched out at full length, to bask
in the sun, a miniature copy of his magnificent father! Very careful
was he of his personal appearance, pruning and preening his pretty
feathers many times each day, paying special attention to his tail—not
more than an inch long—but what a prophecy of the future! As mothers
care most for the most troublesome child, so I grew daily more fond of
cute little Kizzie, more anxious that he should live.

I could talk all day of his funny ways, of his fondness for me, of his
daily increasing intelligence, of his hair-breadth escapes, etc.

The old story—the dear gazelle experience came all too soon.

Completely worn out with my constant vigils, I intrusted him for one
night to a friend who assured me that she was a most quiet sleeper, and
that he could rest safely on her fingers. I was too tired to say no.

She came to me at daybreak, with poor Kizzie dead in her hands. He died
like Desdemona, smothered with pillows. All I can do in his honor has
been done by this inadequate recital of his charms and his capacity.
After a few days of sincere grief I reflected philosophically that if
he had not passed away I must have gone soon, and naturally felt it
preferable that I should be the survivor.

A skillful taxidermist has preserved as much of Kizzie as possible for
me, and he now adorns the parlor mantel, a weak, mute reminder of three
weeks of anxiety.

And his parents—

The peahen died suddenly and mysteriously. There was no apparent reason
for her demise, but the autopsy, which revealed a large and irregular
fragment of window glass lodged in her gizzard, proved that she was
a victim of Beauty’s vanity. A friend who was present said, as he
tenderly held the glass between thumb and finger: “It is now easy to
see through the cause of her death; under the circumstances, it would
be idle to speak of it as pane-less!” Beauty had never seemed very
devoted to her, but he mourned her long and sincerely. Now that she had
gone he appreciated her meek adoration, her altruistic devotion.

Another touch like human nature.

And when, after a decent period of mourning, another spouse was secured
for him he refused to notice her and wandered solitary and sad to a
neighbor’s fields. The new madam was not allowed to share the high
roost on the elm. She was obliged to seek a less elevated and airy
dormitory. His voice, always distressingly harsh, was now so awful
that it was fascinating. The notes seemed cracked by grief or illness.
At last, growing feebler, he succumbed to some wasting malady and no
longer strutted about in brilliant pre-eminence or came to the piazza
calling imperiously for dainties, but rested for hours in some quiet
corner. The physician who was called in prescribed for his liver. He
showed symptoms of poisoning, and I began to fear that in his visit to
a neighbor’s potato fields he had indulged in Paris green, possibly
with suicidal intent.

There was something heroic in his way of dying. No moans, no cries;
just a dignified endurance. From the western window of the shed chamber
where he lay he could see the multitude of fowls below, in the yards
where he had so lately reigned supreme. Occasionally, with a heroic
effort, he would get on his legs and gaze wistfully on the lively crowd
so unmindful of his wretchedness, then sink back exhausted, reminding
me of some grand old monarch, statesman, or warrior looking for the
last time on the scenes of his former triumphs. I should have named
him Socrates. At last he was carried to a cool resting place in the
deep grass, covered with pink mosquito netting, and one kind friend
after another fanned him and watched over his last moments. After he
was really dead, and Tom with tears rolling down his face carried him
tenderly away, I woke from my ambitious dream and felt verily guilty of

But for my vainglorious ambition Beauty would doubtless be alive and
resplendent; his consort, modest hued and devoted, at his side, and my
bank account would have a better showing.

There is a motto as follows, “Let him keep peacock to himself,” derived
in this way:

When George III had partly recovered from one of his attacks, his
ministers got him to read the king’s speech, but he ended every
sentence with the word “peacock.”

The minister who drilled him said that “peacock” was an excellent word
for ending a sentence, only kings should not let subjects hear it, but
should whisper it softly.

The result was a perfect success; the pause at the close of each
sentence had such a fine elocutionary effect.

In future, when longing to indulge in some new display, yield to
another temptation, let me whisper “peacock” and be saved.



    Then you seriously suppose, doctor, that gardening is good for the

    I do. For kings, lords, and commons. Grow your own cabbages. Sow
    your own turnips, and if you wish for a gray head, cultivate


Conceit is not encouraged in the country. Your level is decided for
you, and the public opinion is soon reported as something you should

As a witty spinster once remarked: “It’s no use to fib about your age
in your native village. Some old woman always had a calf born the same
night you were!”

Jake Corey was refreshingly frank. He would give me a quizzical look,
shift his quid, and begin:

“Spent a sight o’ money on hens, hain’t ye? Wall, by next year I guess
you’ll find out whether ye want to quit foolin’ with hens or not. Now,
my hens doan’t git no condition powder, nor sun-flower seeds, nor no
such nonsense, and I ain’t got no bone cutter nor fancy fountains for
’em; but I let ’em scratch for themselves and have their liberty, and
mine look full better’n your’n. I’ll give ye one p’int. You could save
a lot by engagin’ an old hoss that’s got to be killed. I’m allers
looking round in the fall of the year for some old critter just ready
to drop. Wait till cold weather, and then, when he’s killed, hang half
of him up in the hen house and see how they’ll pick at it. It’s the
best feed going for hens, and makes ’em lay right along. Doan’t cost
nothin’ either.”

I had been asked to give a lecture in a neighboring town, and, to
change the subject, inquired if he thought many would attend. Jake
looked rather blank, took off his cap, scratched his head, and then

“I dunno. Ef you was a Beecher or a Gough you could fill the hall, or
may be ef your more known like, and would talk to ’em free, you might
git ’em, or if you’s going to sing or dress up to make ’em larf; but
_as ’tis_, I dunno.” After the effort was over I tried to sound him as
to my success. He was unusually reticent, and would only say: “Wall,
the only man I heard speak on’t, said ’twas different from anything
he ever heard.” This reminded me of a capital story told me by an old
family doctor many years ago. It was that sort of anecdote now out of
fashion with _raconteurs_—a long preamble, many details, a gradual
increase of interest, and a vivid climax, and when told by a sick bed
would sometimes weary the patient. A man not especially well known had
given a lecture in a New Hampshire town without rousing much enthusiasm
in his audience, and as he rode away on the top of the stage coach
next morning he tried to get some sort of opinion from Jim Barker, the
driver. After pumping in vain for a compliment the gentleman inquired:
“Did you hear nothing about my lecture from any of the people? I should
like very much to get some idea of how it was received.”

“Wall, no, stranger, I can’t say as I heerd much. I guess the folks was
purty well pleased. No one seemed to be ag’in it but Square Lothrop.”

“And may I ask what he said?”

“Wall, I wouldn’t mind it, if I’se you, what he said. He says just what
he thinks—right out with it, no matter who’s hurt—and he usually gets
the gist on’t. But I wouldn’t mind what he said, the public was purty
generally pleased.” And the long whip lash cracks and Jim shouts, “Get
an, Dandy.”

“Yes,” persisted the tortured man; “but I do want very much to know
what Squire Lothrop’s opinion was.”

“Now, stranger, I wouldn’t think any more about the Square. He’s got
good common sense and allers hits the nail on the head, but as I said,
you pleased ’em fust rate.”

“Yes, but I must know what Squire Lothrop did say.”

“Wall, if you will have it, he did say (and he’s apt to get the gist
on’t) he did say that _he_ thought ’twas _awful shaller_!”

Many epigrammatic sayings come back to me, and one is too good to be
omitted, An old woman was fiercely criticising a neighbor and ended
in this way: “Folks that pretend to be somebody, and don’t act like
nobody, ain’t anybody!”

Another woman reminded me of Mrs. Partington. She told blood-curdling
tales of the positive reappearance of departed spirits, and when I
said, “Do you really believe all this?” she replied, “Indeed, I do, and
yet I’m not an _imaginary_ woman!” Her dog was provoked into a conflict
with my setters, and she exclaimed: “Why, I never saw him so completely

Then the dear old lady who said she was a free thinker and wasn’t
ashamed of it; guessed she knew as much as the minister ’bout this
world or the next; liked nothing better than to set down Sunday
afternoons after she’d fed her hens and read Ingersoll. “What books of
his have you?” I asked.

She handed me a small paper-bound volume which did not look like any of
“Bob’s” productions. It was a Guide Book through Picturesque Vermont by
Ernest Ingersoll!

And I must not omit the queer sayings of a simple-hearted hired man on
a friend’s farm.

Oh, for a photo of him as I saw him one cold, rainy morning tending
Jason Kibby’s dozen cows. He had on a rubber coat and cap, but
his trouser legs were rolled above the knee and he was barefoot,
“Hannibal,” I shouted, “you’ll take cold with your feet in that wet

“Gueth not, Marm,” he lisped back cheerily. “I never cared for shooth

He was always shouting across the way to inquire if “_thith_ wath hot
enough or cold enough to thute _me_?” As if I had expressed a strong
desire for phenomenal extremes of temperature. One morning he suddenly
departed. I met him trudging along with three hats jammed on to his
head and a rubber coat under his arm, for ’twas a fine day.

“Why, Hanny!” I exclaimed, “where are you going in such haste?”

“Mithter Kibby told me to go to Halifax, and—I’m going!”

Next, the man who was anxious to go into partnership with me. He
would work my farm at halves, or I could buy his farm, cranberry bog,
and woodland, and he would live right on there and run that place at
halves; urged me to buy twelve or fourteen cows cheap in the fall and
start a milk route, he to be the active partner; then he had a chance
to buy a lot of “essences” cheap, and if I’d purchase a peddling-wagon,
he’d put in his old horse, and we’d go halves on that business, or I
could buy up a lot of calves or young pigs and he’d feed ’em and we’d
go halves.

But I will not take you through my entire picture-gallery, as I have
two good stories to tell you before saying good-by.

Depressing remarks have reached me about my “lakelet,” which at first
was ridiculed by every one. The struggle of evolution from the “spring
hole” was severe and protracted. Experts were summoned, their estimates
of cost ranging from four hundred to one thousand dollars, and no one
thought it worth while to touch it. It was discouraging. Venerable and
enormous turtles hid in its muddy depths and snapped at the legs of
the ducks as they dived, adding a limp to the waddle; frogs croaked
there dismally; mosquitoes made it a camping ground and head center;
big black water snakes often came to drink and lingered by the edge;
the ugly horn pout was the only fish that could live there. Depressing,
in contrast with my rosy dreams! But now the little lake is a charming
reality, and the boat is built and launched. Turtles, pout, lily roots
as big as small trees, and two hundred loads of “alluvial deposit” are
no longer “in it,” while carp are promised me by my friend Commissioner
Blackford. The “Tomtoolan”[2] is not a large body of water—one hundred
and fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide—but it is a delight to me
and has been grossly traduced by ignorant or envious outsiders. The
day after the “Katy-Did” was christened (a flat-bottomed boat, painted
prettily with blue and gold) I invited a lady to try it with me. Flags
were fluttering from stem and stern. We took a gayly colored horn to
toot as we went, and two dippers to bail, if necessary. It was not
exactly “Youth at the prow and Pleasure at the helm,” but we were very
jolly and not a little proud.

[Footnote 2: Named in honor of the amateur engineers.]

A neglected knot-hole soon caused the boat to leak badly. We had made
but one circuit, when we were obliged to “hug the shore” and devote
our entire energies to bailing. “Tip her a little more,” I cried, and
the next instant we were both rolled into the water. It was an absurd
experience, and after scrambling out, our clothes so heavy we could
scarcely step, we vowed, between hysteric fits of laughter, to keep our
tip-over a profound secret.

But the next time I went to town, friends began to smile mysteriously,
asked me if I had been out on the lake yet, made sly and jocose
allusions to a sudden change to Baptistic faith, and if I cordially
invited them to join me in a row, would declare a preference for
surf and salt water, or, if pressed, would murmur in the meanest way
something about having a bath-tub at home.

It is now nearly a year since that little adventure, but it is still a
subject of mirth, even in other towns. A friend calling yesterday told
me the version he had just heard at Gillford, ten miles away!

“You bet they have comical goings-on at that woman’s farm by the
Gooseville depot! She got a regular menagerie, fust off—everything she
see or could hear of. Got sick o’ the circus bizness, and went into
potatoes deep. They say she was actually up and outdoors by day-break,
working and worrying over the tater bugs!

“She’s a red-headed, fleshy woman, and some of our folks going by
in the cars would tell of seeing her tramping up and down the long
furrows, with half a dozen boys hired to help her. Soon as she’d
killed most of her own, a million more just traveled over from the
field opposite where they had had their own way and cleaned out most
everything. Then, what the bugs spared, the long rains rotted. So I
hear she’s giv’ up potatoes.

“Then she got sot on scooping out a seven by nine mud hole to make a
pond, and had a boat built to match.

“Well, by darn, she took a stout woman in with her, and, as I heerd it,
that boat just giv’ one groan, and sunk right down!”

As to the potatoes, I might never have escaped from that terrific
thralldom, if a city friend, after hearing my woful experience, had not
inquired quietly:

“Why have potatoes? It’s much cheaper to buy all you need!”

I had been laboring under a strange spell—supposed I _must_ plant
potatoes; the relief is unspeakable.

Jennie June once said, “The great art of life is to _eliminate_.” I
admired the condensed wisdom of this, but, like experience, it only
serves to illume the path over which I have passed.

One little incident occurred this spring which is too funny to
withhold. Among the groceries ordered from Boston was a piece of extra
fine cheese. A connoisseur in cheese had advised me to try it. It
recommended itself so strongly that I placed it carefully under glass,
in a place all by itself. It _was_ strong—strong enough to sew buttons
on, strong as Sampson, strong enough to walk away alone. One warm
morning it seemed to have gained during the night. Its penetrating,
permeating power was something, almost supernatural. I carried it from
one place to another, each time more remote. It would not be lonely if
segregrated, doubtless it had ample social facilities within itself!
At last I became desperate. “Ellen,” I exclaimed, “just bring in that
cheese and burn it. It comes high, too high. I can not endure it.”
She opened the top of the range and, as the cremation was going on, I
continued my comments. “Why, in all my life, I never knew anything like
it; wherever I put it—in pantry, swing cupboard, on the cellar stairs,
in a tin box, on top of the refrigerator—way out on that—” Just then
Tom opened the door and said:

“Miss, your fertilizer’s come!”

I have told you of my mistakes, failures, losses, but have you any idea
of my daily delights, my lasting gains?

From invalidism to health, from mental depression to exuberant spirits,
that is the blessed record of two years of amateur farming. What has
done this? Exercise, actual hard work, digging in the dirt. We are made
of dust, and the closer our companionship with Mother Earth in summer
time the longer we shall keep above ground. Then the freedom from
conventional restraints of dress; no necessity for “crimps,” no need of
foreign hirsute adornment, no dresses with tight arm holes and trailing
skirts, no high-heeled slippers with pointed toes, but comfort, clear
comfort, indoors and out.

Plenty of rocking chairs, lounges that make one sleepy just to look
at them, open fires in every room, and nothing too fine for the sun
to glorify; butter, eggs, cream, vegetables, poultry—simply perfect,
and the rare, ecstatic privilege of eating onions—onions raw, boiled,
baked, and fried at any hour or all hours. I said comfort; it is luxury!

Dr. Holmes says: “I have seen respectability and amiability grouped
over the air-tight stove, I have seen virtue and intelligence hovering
over the register, but I have never seen true happiness in a family
circle where the faces were not illuminated by the blaze of an open
fireplace.” And nature! I could fill pages with glowing descriptions
of Days Outdoors. In my own homely pasture I have found the dainty
wild rose, the little field strawberries so fragrant and spicy, the
blue berries high and low, so desirable for “pie-fodder,” and daisies
and ferns in abundance, and, in an adjoining meadow by the brookside,
the cardinal flower and the blue gentian. All these simple pleasures
seem better to me than sitting in heated, crowded rooms listening to
interminable music, or to men or women who never know when to stop,
or rushing round to gain more information on anything and everything
from Alaska to Zululand, and wildly struggling to catch up with “social

City friends, looking at the other side of the shield, marvel at my
contentment, and regard me as buried alive. But when I go back for a
short time to the old life I am fairly homesick. I miss my daily visit
to the cows and the frolic with the dogs. All that has been unpleasant
fades like a dream.

I think of the delicious morning hours on the broad vine-covered
piazza, the evenings with their starry splendor or witching moonlight,
the nights of sound sleep and refreshing rest, the all-day picnics, the
jolly drives with friends as charmed with country life as myself, and I
weary of social functions and overpowering intellectual privileges, and
every other advantage of the metropolis, and long to migrate once more
from Gotham to Gooseville.

  “Dear country life of child and man!
    For both the best, the strongest,
  That with the earliest race began,
    And hast outlived the longest,
  Their cities perished long ago;
    Who the first farmers were we know.”


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