The Diary of a Goose Girl
Kate Douglas Wiggin
This etext was prepared by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1902 Gay and Bird edition.
The Diary of a Goose Girl
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
THORNYCROFT FARM, near Barbury Green, July 1, 190-.
In alluding to myself as a Goose Girl, I am using only the most
modest of my titles; for I am also a poultry-maid, a tender of
Belgian hares and rabbits, and a shepherdess; but I particularly
fancy the role of Goose Girl, because it recalls the German fairy
tales of my early youth, when I always yearned, but never hoped, to
be precisely what I now am.
As I was jolting along these charming Sussex roads the other day, a
fat buff pony and a tippy cart being my manner of progression, I
chanced upon the village of Barbury Green.
One glance was enough for any woman, who, having eyes to see, could
see with them; but I made assurance doubly sure by driving about a
little, struggling to conceal my new-born passion from the stable-
boy who was my escort. Then, it being high noon of a cloudless
day, I descended from the trap and said to the astonished yokel:
"You may go back to the Hydropathic; I am spending a month or two
here. Wait a moment--I'll send a message, please!"
I then scribbled a word or two to those having me in custody.
"I am very tired of people," the note ran, "and want to rest myself
by living a while with things. Address me (if you must) at Barbury
Green post-office, or at all events send me a box of simple
clothing there--nothing but shirts and skirts, please. I cannot
forget that I am only twenty miles from Oxenbridge (though it might
be one hundred and twenty, which is the reason I adore it), but I
rely upon you to keep an honourable distance yourselves, and not to
divulge my place of retreat to others, especially to--you know
whom! Do not pursue me. I will never be taken alive!"
Having cut, thus, the cable that bound me to civilisation, and
having seen the buff pony and the dazed yokel disappear in a cloud
of dust, I looked about me with what Stevenson calls a "fine,
dizzy, muddle-headed joy," the joy of a successful rebel or a
liberated serf. Plenty of money in my purse--that was unromantic,
of course, but it simplified matters--and nine hours of daylight
remaining in which to find a lodging.
The village is one of the oldest, and I am sure it must be one of
the quaintest, in England. It is too small to be printed on the
map (an honour that has spoiled more than one Arcadia), so pray do
not look there, but just believe in it, and some day you may be
rewarded by driving into it by chance, as I did, and feel the same
Columbus thrill running, like an electric current, through your
veins. I withhold specific geographical information in order that
you may not miss that Columbus thrill, which comes too seldom in a
world of railroads.
The Green is in the very centre of Barbury village, and all civic,
political, family, and social life converges there, just at the
public duck-pond--a wee, sleepy lake with a slope of grass-covered
stones by which the ducks descend for their swim.
The houses are set about the Green like those in a toy village.
They are of old brick, with crumpled, up-and-down roofs of deep-
toned red, and tufts of stonecrop growing from the eaves. Diamond-
paned windows, half open, admit the sweet summer air; and as for
the gardens in front, it would seem as if the inhabitants had
nothing to do but work in them, there is such a riotous profusion
of colour and bloom. To add to the effect, there are always pots
of flowers hanging from the trees, blue flax and yellow myrtle; and
cages of Java sparrows and canaries singing joyously, as well they
may in such a paradise.
The shops are idyllic, too, as if Nature had seized even the man of
trade and made him subservient to her designs. The general
draper's, where I fitted myself out for a day or two quite easily,
is set back in a tangle of poppies and sweet peas, Madonna lilies
and Canterbury bells. The shop itself has a gay awning, and what
do you think the draper has suspended from it, just as a
picturesque suggestion to the passer-by? Suggestion I call it,
because I should blush to use the word advertisement in describing
anything so dainty and decorative. Well, then, garlands of shoes,
if you please! Baby bootlets of bronze; tiny ankle-ties in yellow,
blue, and scarlet kid; glossy patent-leather pumps shining in the
sun, with festoons of slippers at the corners, flowery slippers in
imitation Berlin wool-work. If you make this picture in your
mind's-eye, just add a window above the awning, and over the fringe
of marigolds in the window-box put the draper's wife dancing a
rosy-cheeked baby. Alas! my words are only black and white, I
fear, and this picture needs a palette drenched in primary colours.
Along the street, a short distance, is the old watchmaker's. Set
in the hedge at the gate is a glass case with Multum in Parvo
painted on the woodwork. Within, a little stand of trinkets
revolves slowly; as slowly, I imagine, as the current of business
in that quiet street. The house stands a trifle back and is
covered thickly with ivy, while over the entrance-door of the shop
is a great round clock set in a green frame of clustering vine.
The hands pointed to one when I passed the watchmaker's garden with
its thicket of fragrant lavender and its murmuring bees; so I went
in to the sign of the "Strong i' the Arm" for some cold luncheon,
determining to patronise "The Running Footman" at the very next
opportunity. Neither of these inns is starred by Baedeker, and
this fact adds the last touch of enchantment to the picture.
The landlady at the "Strong i' the Arm" stabbed me in the heart by
telling me that there were no apartments to let in the village, and
that she had no private sitting-room in the inn; but she speedily
healed the wound by saying that I might be accommodated at one of
the farm-houses in the vicinity. Did I object to a farm-'ouse?
Then she could cheerfully recommend the Evan's farm, only 'alf a
mile away. She 'ad understood from Miss Phoebe Evan, who sold her
poultry, that they would take one lady lodger if she didn't wish
much waiting upon.
In my present mood I was in search of the strenuous life, and eager
to wait, rather than to be waited upon; so I walked along the edge
of the Green, wishing that some mentally unbalanced householder
would take a sudden fancy to me and ask me to come in and lodge
awhile. I suppose these families live under their roofs of peach-
blow tiles, in the midst of their blooming gardens, for a guinea a
week or thereabouts; yet if they "undertook" me (to use their own
phrase), the bill for my humble meals and bed would be at least
double that. I don't know that I blame them; one should have
proper compensation for admitting a world-stained lodger into such
When I was searching for rooms a week ago, I chanced upon a pretty
cottage where the woman had sometimes let apartments. She showed
me the premises and asked me if I would mind taking my meals in her
own dining-room, where I could be served privately at certain
hours: and, since she had but the one sitting-room, would I allow
her to go on using it occasionally? also, if I had no special
preference, would I take the second-sized bedroom and leave her in
possession of the largest one, which permitted her to have the
baby's crib by her bedside? She thought I should be quite as
comfortable, and it was her opinion that in making arrangements
with lodgers, it was a good plan not to "bryke up the 'ome any more
than was necessary."
"Bryke up the 'ome!" That is seemingly the malignant purpose with
which I entered Barbury Green.
Enter the family of Thornycroft Farm, of which I am already a
member in good and regular standing.
I introduce Mrs. Heaven first, for she is a self-saturated person
who would never forgive the insult should she receive any lower
She welcomed me with the statement: "We do not take lodgers here,
nor boarders; no lodgers, nor boarders, but we do occasionally
admit paying guests, those who look as if they would appreciate the
quietude of the plyce and be willing as you might say to remunerate
I did not mind at this particular juncture what I was called, so
long as the epithet was comparatively unobjectionable, so I am a
paying guest, therefore, and I expect to pay handsomely for the
handsome appellation. Mrs. Heaven is short and fat; she fills her
dress as a pin-cushion fills its cover; she wears a cap and apron,
and she is so full of platitudes that she would have burst had I
not appeared as a providential outlet for them. Her accent is not
of the farm, but of the town, and smacks wholly of the marts of
trade. She is repetitious, too, as well as platitudinous. "I 'ope
if there's anythink you require you will let us know, let us know,"
she says several times each day; and whenever she enters my
sitting-room she prefaces her conversation with the remark: "I
trust you are finding it quiet here, miss? It's the quietude of
the plyce that is its charm, yes, the quietude. And yet" (she
dribbles on) "it wears on a body after a while, miss. I often go
into Woodmucket to visit one of my sons just for the noise, simply
for the noise, miss, for nothink else in the world but the noise.
There's nothink like noise for soothing nerves that is worn
threadbare with the quietude, miss, or at least that's my
experience; and yet to a strynger the quietude of the plyce is its
charm, undoubtedly its chief charm; and that is what our paying
guests always say, although our charges are somewhat higher than
other plyces. If there's anythink you require, miss, I 'ope you'll
mention it. There is not a commodious assortment in Barbury Green,
but we can always send the pony to Woodmucket in case of urgency.
Our paying guest last summer was a Mrs. Pollock, and she was by way
of having sudden fancies. Young and unmarried though you are,
miss, I think you will tyke my meaning without my speaking plyner?
Well, at six o'clock of a rainy afternoon, she was seized with an
unaccountable desire for vegetable marrows, and Mr. 'Eaven put the
pony in the cart and went to Woodmucket for them, which is a great
advantage to be so near a town and yet 'ave the quietude."
Mr. Heaven is merged, like Mr. Jellyby, in the more shining
qualities of his wife. A line of description is too long for him.
Indeed, I can think of no single word brief enough, at least in
English. The Latin "nil" will do, since no language is rich in
words of less than three letters. He is nice, kind, bald, timid,
thin, and so colourless that he can scarcely be discerned save in a
strong light. When Mrs. Heaven goes out into the orchard in search
of him, I can hardly help calling from my window, "Bear a trifle to
the right, Mrs. Heaven--now to the left--just in front of you now--
if you put out your hands you will touch him."
Phoebe, aged seventeen, is the daughter of the house. She is
virtuous, industrious, conscientious, and singularly destitute of
physical charm. She is more than plain; she looks as if she had
been planned without any definite purpose in view, made of the
wrong materials, been badly put together, and never properly
finished off; but "plain" after all is a relative word. Many a
plain girl has been married for her beauty; and now and then a
beauty, falling under a cold eye, has been thought plain.
Phoebe has her compensations, for she is beloved by, and
reciprocates the passion of, the Woodmancote carrier, Woodmucket
being the English manner of pronouncing the place of his abode. If
he "carries" as energetically for the great public as he fetches
for Phoebe, then he must be a rising and a prosperous man. He
brings her daily, wild strawberries, cherries, birds' nests,
peacock feathers, sea-shells, green hazel-nuts, samples of hens'
food, or bouquets of wilted field flowers tied together tightly and
held with a large, moist, loving hand. He has fine curly hair of
sandy hue, which forms an aureole on his brow, and a reddish beard,
which makes another inverted aureole to match, round his chin. One
cannot look at him, especially when the sun shines through him,
without thinking how lovely he would be if stuffed and set on
wheels, with a little string to drag him about.
Phoebe confided to me that she was on the eve of loving the postman
when the carrier came across her horizon.
"It doesn't do to be too hysty, does it, miss?" she asked me as we
were weeding the onion bed. "I was to give the postman his answer
on the Monday night, and it was on the Monday morning that Mr.
Gladwish made his first trip here as carrier. I may say I never
wyvered from that moment, and no more did he. When I think how
near I came to promising the postman it gives me a turn." (I can
understand that, for I once met the man I nearly promised years
before to marry, and we both experienced such a sense of relief at
being free instead of bound that we came near falling in love for
The last and most important member of the household is the Square
Baby. His name is Albert Edward, and he is really five years old
and no baby at all; but his appearance on this planet was in the
nature of a complete surprise to all parties concerned, and he is
spoiled accordingly. He has a square head and jaw, square
shoulders, square hands and feet. He is red and white and solid
and stolid and slow-witted, as the young of his class commonly are,
and will make a bulwark of the nation in course of time, I should
think; for England has to produce a few thousand such square babies
every year for use in the colonies and in the standing army.
Albert Edward has already a military gait, and when he has acquired
a habit of obedience at all comparable with his power of command,
he will be able to take up the white man's burden with
distinguished success. Meantime I can never look at him without
marvelling how the English climate can transmute bacon and eggs,
tea and the solid household loaf into such radiant roses and lilies
as bloom upon his cheeks and lips.
Thornycroft is by way of being a small poultry farm.
In reaching it from Barbury Green, you take the first left-hand
road, go till you drop, and there you are.
It reminds me of my "grandmother's farm at Older." Did you know
the song when you were a child? -
My grandmother had a very fine farm
'Way down in the fields of Older.
With a cluck-cluck here,
And a cluck-cluck there,
Here and there a cluck-cluck,
Cluck-cluck here and there,
Down in the fields at Older.
It goes on for ever by the simple subterfuge of changing a few
words in each verse.
My grandmother had a very fine farm
'Way down in the fields of Older.
With a quack-quack here,
And a quack-quack there,
Here and there a quack-quack,
Quack-quack here and there,
Down in the fields at Older.
This is followed by the gobble-gobble, moo-moo, baa-baa, etc., as
long as the laureate's imagination and the infant's breath hold
good. The tune is pretty, and I do not know, or did not, when I
was young, a more fascinating lyric.
Thornycroft House must have belonged to a country gentleman once
upon a time, or to more than one; men who built on a bit here and
there once in a hundred years, until finally we have this
charmingly irregular and dilapidated whole. You go up three steps
into Mrs. Heaven's room, down two into mine, while Phoebe's is up
in a sort of turret with long, narrow lattices opening into the
creepers. There are crooked little stair-cases, passages that
branch off into other passages and lead nowhere in particular; I
can't think of a better house in which to play hide and seek on a
wet day. In front, what was once, doubtless, a green, is cut up
into greens; to wit, a vegetable garden, where the onions, turnips,
and potatoes grow cosily up to the very door-sill; the utilitarian
aspect of it all being varied by some scarlet-runners and a
scattering of poppies on either side of the path.
The Belgian hares have their habitation in a corner fifty feet
distant; one large enclosure for poultry lies just outside the
sweetbrier hedge; the others, with all the houses and coops, are in
the meadow at the back, where also our tumbler pigeons are kept.
Phoebe attends to the poultry; it is her department. Mr. Heaven
has neither the force nor the finesse required, and the gentle
reader who thinks these qualities unneeded in so humble a calling
has only to spend a few days at Thornycroft to be convinced. Mrs.
Heaven would be of use, but she is dressing the Square Baby in the
morning and putting him to bed at night just at the hours when the
feathered young things are undergoing the same operation.
A Goose Girl, like a poet, is sometimes born, sometimes otherwise.
I am of the born variety. No training was necessary; I put my head
on my pillow as a complicated product of modern civilisation on a
Tuesday night, and on a Wednesday morning I awoke as a Goose Girl.
My destiny slumbered during the day, but at eight o'clock I heard a
terrific squawking in the direction of the duck-ponds, and,
aimlessly drifting in that direction, I came upon Phoebe trying to
induce ducks and drakes, geese and ganders, to retire for the
night. They have to be driven into enclosures behind fences of
wire netting, fastened into little rat-proof boxes, or shut into
separate coops, so as to be safe from their natural enemies, the
rats and foxes; which, obeying, I suppose, the law of supply and
demand, abound in this neighbourhood. The old ganders are allowed
their liberty, being of such age, discretion, sagacity, and
pugnacity that they can be trusted to fight their own battles.
The intelligence of hens, though modest, is of such an order that
it prompts them to go to bed at a virtuous hour of their own
accord; but ducks and geese have to be materially assisted, or I
believe they would roam till morning. Never did small boy detest
and resist being carried off to his nursery as these dullards,
young and old, detest and resist being driven to theirs. Whether
they suffer from insomnia, or nightmare, or whether they simply
prefer the sweet air of liberty (and death) to the odour of
captivity and the coop, I have no means of knowing.
Phoebe stood by one of the duck-ponds, a long pole in her hand, and
a helpless expression in that doughlike countenance of hers, where
aimless contours and features unite to make a kind of facial blur.
(What does the carrier see in it?) The pole was not long enough to
reach the ducks, and Phoebe's method lacked spirit and adroitness,
so that it was natural, perhaps, that they refused to leave the
water, the evening being warm, with an uncommon fine sunset.
I saw the situation at once and ran to meet it with a glow of
interest and anticipation. If there is anything in the world I
enjoy, it is making somebody do something that he doesn't want to
do; and if, when victory perches upon my banner, the somebody can
be brought to say that he ought to have done it without my making
him, that adds the unforgettable touch to pleasure, though seldom,
alas! does it happen. Then ensued the delightful and stimulating
hour that has now become a feature of the day; an hour in which the
remembrance of the table-d'hote dinner at the Hydro, going on at
identically the same time, only stirs me to a keener joy and
The ducks swim round in circles, hide under the willows, and
attempt to creep into the rat-holes in the banks, a stupidity so
crass that it merits instant death, which it somehow always
escapes. Then they come out in couples and waddle under the wrong
fence into the lower meadow, fly madly under the tool-house, pitch
blindly in with the sitting hens, and out again in short order, all
the time quacking and squawking, honking and hissing like a
bewildered orchestra. By dint of splashing the water with poles,
throwing pebbles, beating the shrubs at the pond's edges, "shooing"
frantically with our skirts, crawling beneath bars to head them
off, and prodding them from under bushes to urge them on, we
finally get the older ones out of the water and the younger ones
into some sort of relation to their various retreats; but, owing to
their lack of geography, hatred of home, and general recalcitrancy,
they none of them turn up in the right place and have to be sorted
out. We uncover the top of the little house, or the enclosure as
it may be, or reach in at the door, and, seizing the struggling
victim, drag him forth and take him where he should have had the
wit to go in the first instance. The weak ones get in with the
strong and are in danger of being trampled; two May goslings that
look almost full-grown have run into a house with a brood of
ducklings a week old. There are twenty-seven crowded into one
coop, five in another, nineteen in another; the gosling with one
leg has to come out, and the duckling threatened with the gapes;
their place is with the "invaleeds," as Phoebe calls them, but they
never learn the location of the hospital, nor have the slightest
scruple about spreading contagious diseases.
Finally, when we have separated and sorted exhaustively, an
operation in which Phoebe shows a delicacy of discrimination and a
fearlessness of attack amounting to genius, we count the entire
number and find several missing. Searching for their animate or
inanimate bodies, we "scoop" one from under the tool-house, chance
upon two more who are being harried and pecked by the big geese in
the lower meadow, and discover one sailing by himself in solitary
splendour in the middle of the deserted pond, a look of evil
triumph in his bead-like eye. Still we lack one young duckling,
and he at length is found dead by the hedge. A rat has evidently
seized him and choked him at a single throttle, but in such haste
that he has not had time to carry away the tiny body.
"Poor think!" says Phoebe tearfully; "it looks as if it was 'it
with some kind of a wepping. I don't know whatever to do with the
rats, they're gettin' that fearocious!"
Before I was admitted into daily contact with the living goose (my
previous intercourse with him having been carried on when gravy and
stuffing obscured his true personality), I thought him a very
Dreyfus among fowls, a sorely slandered bird, to whom justice had
never been done; for even the gentle Darwin is hard upon him. My
opinion is undergoing some slight modifications, but I withhold
judgment at present, hoping that some of the follies, faults,
vagaries, and limitations that I observe in Phoebe's geese may be
due to Phoebe's educational methods, which were, before my advent,
those of the darkest ages.
By the time the ducks and geese are incarcerated for the night, the
reasonable, sensible, practical-minded hens--especially those whose
mentality is increased and whose virtue is heightened by the
responsibilities of motherhood--have gone into their own particular
rat-proof boxes, where they are waiting in a semi-somnolent state
to have the wire doors closed, the bricks set against them, and the
bits of sacking flung over the tops to keep out the draught. We
have a great many young families, both ducklings and chicks, but we
have no duck mothers at present. The variety of bird which Phoebe
seems to have bred during the past year may be called the New Duck,
with certain radical ideas about woman's sphere. What will happen
to Thornycroft if we develop a New Hen and a New Cow, my
imagination fails to conceive. There does not seem to be the
slightest danger for the moment, however, and our hens lay and sit
and sit and lay as if laying and sitting were the twin purposes of
The nature of the hen seems to broaden with the duties of
maternity, but I think myself that we presume a little upon her
amiability and natural motherliness. It is one thing to desire a
family of one's own, to lay eggs with that idea in view, to sit
upon them three long weeks and hatch out and bring up a nice brood
of chicks. It must be quite another to have one's eggs abstracted
day by day and eaten by a callous public, the nest filled with
deceitful substitutes, and at the end of a dull and weary period of
hatching to bring into the world another person's children--
children, too, of the wrong size, the wrong kind of bills and feet,
and, still more subtle grievance, the wrong kind of instincts,
leading them to a dangerous aquatic career, one which the mother
may not enter to guide, guard, and teach; one on the brink of which
she must ever stand, uttering dryshod warnings which are never
heeded. They grow used to this strange order of things after a
bit, it is true, and are less anxious and excited. When the duck-
brood returns safely again and again from what the hen-mother
thinks will prove a watery grave, she becomes accustomed to the
situation, I suppose. I find that at night she stands by the pond
for what she considers a decent, self-respecting length of time,
calling the ducklings out of the water; then, if they refuse to
come, the mother goes off to bed and leaves them to Providence, or
The brown hen that we have named Cornelia is the best mother, the
one who waits longest and most patiently for the web-footed Gracchi
to finish their swim.
When a chick is taken out of the incubytor (as Phoebe calls it) and
refused by all the other hens, Cornelia generally accepts it,
though she had twelve of her own when we began using her as an
orphan asylum. "Wings are made to stretch," she seems to say
cheerfully, and with a kind glance of her round eye she welcomes
the wanderer and the outcast. She even tended for a time the
offspring of an absent-minded, light-headed pheasant who flew over
a four-foot wall and left her young behind her to starve; it was
not a New Pheasant, either; for the most conservative and old-
fashioned of her tribe occasionally commits domestic solecisms of
There is no telling when, where, or how the maternal instinct will
assert itself. Among our Thornycroft cats is a certain Mrs.
Greyskin. She had not been seen for many days, and Mrs. Heaven
concluded that she had hidden herself somewhere with a family of
kittens; but as the supply of that article with us more than equals
the demand, we had not searched for her with especial zeal.
The other day Mrs. Greyskin appeared at the dairy door, and when
she had been fed Phoebe and I followed her stealthily, from a
distance. She walked slowly about as if her mind were quite free
from harassing care, and finally approached a deserted cow-house
where there was a great mound of straw. At this moment she caught
sight of us and turned in another direction to throw us off the
scent. We persevered in our intention of going into her probable
retreat, and were cautiously looking for some sign of life in the
haymow, when we heard a soft cackle and a ruffling of plumage.
Coming closer to the sound we saw a black hen brooding a nest, her
bright bead eyes turning nervously from side to side; and, coaxed
out from her protecting wings by youthful curiosity, came four
kittens, eyes wide open, warm, happy, ready for sport!
The sight was irresistible, and Phoebe ran for Mr. and Mrs. Heaven
and the Square Baby. Mother Hen was not to be embarrassed or
daunted, even if her most sacred feelings were regarded in the
light of a cheap entertainment. She held her ground while one of
the kits slid up and down her glossy back, and two others, more
timid, crept underneath her breast, only daring to put out their
pink noses! We retired then for very shame and met Mrs. Greyskin
in the doorway. This should have thickened the plot, but there is
apparently no rivalry nor animosity between the co-mothers. We
watch them every day now, through a window in the roof. Mother
Greyskin visits the kittens frequently, lies down beside the home
nest, and gives them their dinner. While this is going on Mother
Blackwing goes modestly away for a bite, a sup, and a little
exercise, returning to the kittens when the cat leaves them. It is
pretty to see her settle down over the four, fat, furry dumplings,
and they seem to know no difference in warmth or comfort, whichever
mother is brooding them; while, as their eyes have been open for a
week, it can no longer be called a blind error on their part.
When we have closed all our small hen-nurseries for the night,
there is still the large house inhabited by the thirty-two full-
grown chickens which Phoebe calls the broilers. I cannot endure
the term, and will not use it. "Now for the April chicks," I say
"Do you mean the broilers?" asks Phoebe.
"I mean the big April chicks," say I.
"Yes, them are the broilers," says she.
But is it not disagreeable enough to be a broiler when one's time
comes, without having the gridiron waved in one's face for weeks
The April chicks are all lively and desirous of seeing the world as
thoroughly as possible before going to roost or broil. As a
general thing, we find in the large house sixteen young fowls of
the contemplative, flavourless, resigned-to-the-inevitable variety;
three more (the same three every night) perch on the roof and are
driven down; four (always the same four) cling to the edge of the
open door, waiting to fly off, but not in, when you attempt to
close it; nine huddle together on a place in the grass about forty
feet distant, where a small coop formerly stood in the prehistoric
ages. This small coop was one in which they lodged for a fortnight
when they were younger, and when those absolutely indelible
impressions are formed of which we read in educational maxims. It
was taken away long since, but the nine loyal (or stupid)
Casabiancas cling to the sacred spot where its foundations rested;
they accordingly have to be caught and deposited bodily in the
house, and this requires strategy, as they note our approach from a
Finally all are housed but two, the little white cock and the black
pullet, who are still impish and of a wandering mind. Though
headed off in every direction, they fly into the hedges and hide in
the underbrush. We beat the hedge on the other side, but with no
avail. We dive into the thicket of wild roses, sweetbrier, and
thistles on our hands and knees, coming out with tangled hair,
scratched noses, and no hens. Then, when all has been done that
human ingenuity can suggest, Phoebe goes to her late supper and I
do sentry-work. I stroll to a safe distance, and, sitting on one
of the rat-proof boxes, watch the bushes with an eagle eye. Five
minutes go by, ten, fifteen; and then out steps the white cock,
stealthily tiptoeing toward the home into which he refused to go at
our instigation. In a moment out creeps the obstinate little beast
of a black pullet from the opposite clump. The wayward pair meet
at their own door, which I have left open a few inches. When all
is still I walk gently down the field, and, warned by previous
experiences, approach the house from behind. I draw the door to
softly and quickly; but not so quickly that the evil-minded and
suspicious black pullet hasn't time to spring out, with a make-
believe squawk of fright--that induces three other blameless
chickens to fly down from their perches and set the whole flock in
a flutter. Then I fall from grace and call her a Broiler; and
when, after some minutes of hot pursuit, I catch her by falling
over her in the corner by the goose-pen, I address her as a fat,
juicy Broiler with parsley butter and a bit of bacon.
At ten thirty or so in the morning the cackling begins. I wonder
exactly what it means! Have the forest-lovers who listen so
respectfully to, and interpret so exquisitely, the notes of birds--
have none of them made psychological investigations of the hen
cackle? Can it be simple elation? One could believe that of the
first few eggs, but a hen who has laid two or three hundred can
hardly feel the same exuberant pride and joy daily. Can it be the
excitement incident to successful achievement? Hardly, because the
task is so extremely simple. Eggs are more or less alike; a little
larger or smaller, a trifle whiter or browner; and almost sure to
be quite right as to details; that is, the big end never gets
confused with the little end, they are always ovoid and never
spherical, and the yolk is always inside of the white. As for a
soft-shelled egg, it is so rare an occurrence that the fear of
laying one could not set the whole race of hens in a panic; so
there really cannot be any intellectual or emotional agitation in
producing a thing that might be made by a machine. Can it be
simply "fussiness"; since the people who have the least to do
commonly make the most flutter about doing it?
Perhaps it is merely conversation. "Cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-DAHcut! .
. . I have finished my strictly fresh egg, have you laid yours?
Make haste, then, for the cock has found a gap in the wire-fence
and wants us to wander in the strawberry-bed. . . . Cut-cut-cut-
cut-cut-DAHcut . . . Every moment is precious, for the Goose Girl
will find us, when she gathers the strawberries for her luncheon .
. . Cut-cut-cut-cut! On the way out we can find sweet places to
steal nests . . . Cut-cut-cut! . . . I am so glad I am not sitting
this heavenly morning; it IS a dull life.
A Lancashire poultry-man drifted into Barbury Green yesterday. He
is an old acquaintance of Mr. Heaven, and spent the night and part
of the next day at Thornycroft Farm. He possessed a deal of fowl
philosophy, and tells many a good hen story, which, like fish
stories, draw rather largely on the credulity of the audience. We
were sitting in the rickyard talking comfortably about laying and
cackling and kindred matters when he took his pipe from his mouth
and told us the following tale--not a bad one if you can translate
'Aw were once towd as, if yo' could only get th' hen's egg away
afooar she hed sin it, th' hen 'ud think it hed med a mistek an'
sit deawn ageean an' lay another.
'An' it seemed to me it were a varra sensible way o' lukkin' at it.
Sooa aw set to wark to mek a nest as 'ud tek a rise eawt o' th'
hens. An' aw dud it too. Aw med a nest wi' a fause bottom, th'
idea bein' as when a hen hed laid, th' egg 'ud drop through into a
'Aw felt varra preawd o' that nest, too, aw con tell yo', an' aw
remember aw felt quite excited when aw see an awd black Minorca,
th' best layer as aw hed, gooa an' settle hersel deawn i' th' nest
an' get ready for wark. Th' hen seemed quite comfortable enough,
aw were glad to see, an' geet through th' operation beawt ony
"Well, aw darsay yo' know heaw a hen carries on as soon as it's
laid a egg. It starts "chuckin'" away like a showman's racket, an'
after tekkin' a good Ink at th' egg to see whether it's a big 'un
or a little 'un, gooas eawt an' tells all t'other hens abeawt it.
"Neaw, this black Minorca, as aw sed, were a owdish bird, an' maybe
knew mooar than aw thowt. Happen it hed laid on a nest wi' a fause
bottom afooar, an' were up to th' trick, but whether or not, aw
never see a hen luk mooar disgusted i' mi life when it lukked i'
th' nest an' see as it hed hed all that trouble fer nowt.
"It woked reawnd th' nest as if it couldn't believe its own eyes.
"But it dudn't do as aw expected. Aw expected as it 'ud sit deawn
ageean an' lay another.
"But it just gi'e one wonderin' sooart o' chuck, an then, after a
long stare reawnd th' hen-coyt, it woked eawt, as mad a hen as
aw've ever sin. Aw fun' eawt after, what th' long stare meant. It
were tekkin' farewell! For if yo'll believe me that hen never laid
another egg i' ony o' my nests.
"Varra like it laid away in a spot wheear it could hev summat to
luk at when it hed done wark for th' day.
"Sooa aw lost mi best layer through mi actin', an' aw've never
invented owt sen."
One learns to be modest by living on a poultry farm, for there are
constant expositions of the most deplorable vanity among the cocks.
We have a couple of pea-fowl who certainly are an addition to the
landscape, as they step mincingly along the square of turf we
dignify by the name of lawn. The head of the house has a most
languid and self-conscious strut, and his microscopic mind is fixed
entirely on his splendid trailing tail. If I could only master his
language sufficiently to tell him how hideously ugly the back view
of this gorgeous fan is, when he spreads it for the edification of
the observer in front of him, he would of course retort that there
is a "congregation side" to everything, but I should at least force
him into a defence of his tail and a confession of its limitations.
This would be new and unpleasant, I fancy; and if it produced no
perceptible effect upon his super-arrogant demeanour, I might
remind him that he is likely to be used, eventually, for a feather
duster, unless, indeed, the Heavens are superstitious and prefer to
throw his tail away, rather than bring ill luck and the evil eye
into the house.
The longer I study the cock, whether Black Spanish, White Leghorn,
Dorking, or the common barnyard fowl, the more intimately I am
acquainted with him, the less I am impressed with his character.
He has more pride of bearing, and less to be proud of, than any
bird I know. He is indolent, though he struts pompously over the
grass as if the day were all too short for his onerous duties. He
calls the hens about him when I throw corn from the basket, but
many a time I have seen him swallow hurriedly, and in private, some
dainty titbit he has found unexpectedly. He has no particular
chivalry. He gives no special encouragement to his hen when he
becomes a prospective father, and renders little assistance when
the responsibilities become actualities. His only personal message
or contribution to the world is his raucous cock-a-doodle-doo,
which, being uttered most frequently at dawn, is the most ill-timed
and offensive of all musical notes. It is so unnecessary too, as
if the day didn't come soon enough without his warning; but I
suppose he is anxious to waken his hens and get them at their daily
task, and so he disturbs the entire community. In short, I dislike
him; his swagger, his autocratic strut, his greed, his irritating
self-consciousness, his endless parading of himself up and down in
a procession of one.
Of course his character is largely the result of polygamy. His
weaknesses are only what might be expected; and as for the hens, I
have considerable respect for the patience, sobriety, and dignity
with which they endure an institution particularly offensive to all
women. In their case they do not even have the sustaining thought
of its being an article of religion, so they are to be complimented
There is nothing on earth so feminine as a hen--not womanly, simply
feminine. Those men of insight who write the Woman's Page in the
Sunday newspapers study hens more than women, I sometimes think; at
any rate, their favourite types are all present on this poultry
Some families of White Leghorns spend most of their time in the
rickyard, where they look extremely pretty, their slender white
shapes and red combs and wattles well set off by the background of
golden hayricks. There is a great oak-tree in one corner, with a
tall ladder leaning against its trunk, and a capital roosting-place
on a long branch running at right angles with the ladder. I try to
spend a quarter of an hour there every night before supper, just
for the pleasure of seeing the feathered "women-folks" mount that
A dozen of them surround the foot, waiting restlessly for their
turn. One little white lady flutters up on the lowest round and
perches there until she reviews the past, faces the present, and
forecasts the future; during which time she is gathering courage
for the next jump. She cackles, takes up one foot and then the
other, tilts back and forth, holds up her skirts and drops them
again, cocks her head nervously to see whether they are all staring
at her below, gives half a dozen preliminary springs which mean
nothing, declares she can't and won't go up any faster, unties her
bonnet strings and pushes back her hair, pulls down her dress to
cover her toes, and finally alights on the next round, swaying to
and fro until she gains her equilibrium, when she proceeds to enact
the same scene over again.
All this time the hens at the foot of the ladder are criticising
her methods and exclaiming at the length of time she requires in
mounting; while the cocks stroll about the yard keeping one eye on
the ladder, picking up a seed here and there, and giving a
masculine sneer now and then at the too-familiar scene. They
approach the party at intervals, but only to remark that it always
makes a man laugh to see a woman go up a ladder. The next hen,
stirred to the depths by this speech, flies up entirely too fast,
loses her head, tumbles off the top round, and has to make the
ascent over again. Thus it goes on and on, this petite comedie
humaine, and I could enjoy it with my whole heart if Mr. Heaven did
not insist on sharing the spectacle with me. He is so
inexpressibly dull, so destitute of humour, that I did not think it
likely he would see in the performance anything more than a flock
of hens going up a ladder to roost. But he did; for there is no
man so blind that he cannot see the follies of women; and, when he
forgot himself so far as to utter a few genial, silly, well-worn
reflections upon femininity at large, I turned upon him and
revealed to him some of the characteristics of his own sex, gained
from an exhaustive study of the barnyard fowl of the masculine
gender. He went into the house discomfited, though chuckling a
little at my vehemence; but at least I have made it for ever
impossible for him to watch his hens without an occasional glance
at the cocks.
O the pathos of a poultry farm! Catherine of Aragon, the black
Spanish hen that stole her nest, brought out nine chicks this
morning, and the business-like and marble-hearted Phoebe has taken
them away and given them to another hen who has only seven. Two
mothers cannot be wasted on these small families--it would not be
profitable; and the older mother, having been tried and found
faithful over seven, has been given the other nine and accepted
them. What of the bereft one? She is miserable and stands about
moping and forlorn, but it is no use fighting against the
inevitable; hens' hearts must obey the same laws that govern the
rotation of crops. Catherine of Aragon feels her lot a bitter one
just now, but in time she will succumb, and lay, which is more to
We have had a very busy evening, beginning with the rats' supper--
delicate sandwiches of bread-and-butter spread with Paris green.
We have a new brood of seventeen ducklings just hatched this
afternoon. When we came to the nest the yellow and brown bunches
of down and fluff were peeping out from under the hen's wings in
the prettiest fashion in the world.
"It's a noble hen!" I said to Phoebe.
"She ain't so nowble as she looks," Phoebe answered grimly. "It
was another 'en that brooded these eggs for near on three weeks and
then this big one come along with a fancy she'd like a family
'erself if she could steal one without too much trouble; so she
drove the rightful 'en off the nest, finished up the last few days,
and 'ere she is in possession of the ducklings!"
"Why don't you take them away from her and give them back to the
first hen, who did most of the work?" I asked, with some spirit.
"Like as not she wouldn't tyke them now," said Phoebe, as she
lifted the hen off the broken egg-shells and moved her gently into
a clean box, on a bed of fresh hay. We put food and drink within
reach of the family, and very proud and handsome that highway
robber of a hen looked, as she stretched her wings over the
seventeen easily-earned ducklings.
Going back to the old nesting-box, I found one egg forgotten among
the shells. It was still warm, and I took it up to run across the
field with it to Phoebe. It was heavy, and the carrying of it was
a queer sensation, inasmuch as it squirmed and "yipped"
vociferously in transit, threatening so unmistakably to hatch in my
hand that I was decidedly nervous. The intrepid little youngster
burst his shell as he touched Phoebe's apron, and has become the
strongest and handsomest of the brood.
All this tending of downy young things, this feeding and putting to
bed, this petting and nursing and rearing, is such pretty,
comforting woman's work. I am sure Phoebe will make a better wife
to the carrier for having been a poultry-maid, and though good
enough for most practical purposes when I came here, I am an
infinitely better woman now. I am afraid I was not particularly
nice the last few days at the Hydro. Such a lot of dull, prosy,
inquisitive, bothering old tabbies! Aunt Margaret furnishing
imaginary symptoms enough to keep a fond husband and two trained
nurses distracted; a man I had never encouraged in my life coming
to stay in the neighbourhood and turning up daily for rejection;
another man taking rooms at the very hotel with the avowed purpose
of making my life a burden; and on the heels of both, a widow of
thirty-five in full chase! Small wonder I thought it more
dignified to retire than to compete, and so I did.
I need not, however, have cut the threads that bound me to
Oxenbridge with such particularly sharp scissors, nor given them
such a vicious snap; for, so far as I can observe, the little world
of which I imagined myself the sun continues to revolve, and,
probably, about some other centre. I can well imagine who has
taken up that delightful but somewhat exposed and responsible
position--it would be just like her!
I am perfectly happy where I am; it is not that; but it seems so
strange that they can be perfectly happy without me, after all that
they--after all that was said on the subject not many days ago.
Nothing turns out as one expects. There have been no hot pursuits,
no rewards offered, no bills posted, no printed placards issued
describing the beauty and charms of a young person who supposed
herself the cynosure of every eye. Heigh-ho! What does it matter,
after all? One can always be a Goose Girl!
* * *
I wonder if the hen mother is quite, quite satisfied with her
ducklings! Do you suppose the fact of hatching and brooding them
breaks down all the sense of difference? Does she not sometimes
reflect that if her children were the ordinary sort, and not these
changelings, she would be enjoying certain pretty little attentions
dear to a mother's heart? The chicks would be pecking the food off
her broad beak with their tiny ones, and jumping on her back to
slide down her glossy feathers. They would be far nicer to cuddle,
too, so small and graceful and light; the changelings are a trifle
solid and brawny. And personally, just as a matter of taste, would
she not prefer wee, round, glancing heads, and pointed beaks,
peeping from under her wings, to these teaspoon-shaped things
larger than her own? I wonder!
We are training fourteen large young chickens to sit on the perches
in their new house, instead of huddling together on the floor as
has been their habit, because we discover rat-holes under the wire
flooring occasionally, and fear that toes may be bitten. At nine
o'clock Phoebe and I lift the chickens one by one, and, as it were,
glue them to their perches, squawking. Three nights have we gone
patiently through with this performance, but they have not learned
the lesson. The ducks and geese are, however, greatly improved by
the application of advanced educational methods, and the regime of
perfect order and system instituted by Me begins to show results.
There is no more violent splashing and pebbling, racing, chasing,
separating. The pole, indeed, still has to be produced, but at the
first majestic wave of my hand they scuttle toward the shore. The
geese turn to the right, cross the rickyard, and go to their pen;
the May ducks turn to the left for their coops, the June ducks
follow the hens to the top meadow, and even the idiot gosling has
an inspiration now and then and stumbles on his own habitation.
Mrs. Heaven has no reverence for the principles of Comenius,
Pestalozzi, or Herbert Spencer as applied to poultry, and when the
ducks and geese came out of the pond badly the other night and went
waddling and tumbling and hissing all over creation, did not
approve of my sending them back into the pond to start afresh.
"I consider it a great waste of time, of good time, miss," she
said; "and, after all, do you consider that educated poultry will
be any better eating, or that it will lay more than one egg a day,
I have given the matter some attention, and I fear Mrs. Heaven is
right. A duck, a goose, or a hen in which I have developed a
larger brain, implanted a sense of duty, or instilled an idea of
self-government, is likely, on the whole, to be leaner, not fatter.
There is nothing like obeying the voice of conscience for taking
the flesh off one's bones; and, speaking of conscience, Phoebe,
whose metaphysics are of the farm farmy, says that hers "felt like
a hunlaid hegg for dyes" after she had jilted the postman.
As to the eggs, I am sure the birds will go on laying one a day for
'tis their nature to. Whether the product of the intelligent,
conscious, logical fowl, will be as rich in quality as that of the
uneducated and barbaric bird, I cannot say; but it ought at least
to be equal to the Denmark egg eaten now by all Londoners; and if,
perchance, left uneaten, it is certain to be a very superior wife
While we are discussing the subject of educating poultry, I confess
that the case of Cannibal Ann gives me much anxiety. Twice in her
short career has she been under suspicion of eating her own eggs,
but Phoebe has never succeeded in catching her in flagrante
delicto. That eminent detective service was reserved for me, and I
have been haunted by the picture ever since. It is an awful sight
to witness a hen gulp her own newly-laid fresh egg, yolk, white,
shell, and all; to realise that you have fed, sheltered, chased,
and occasionally run in, a being possessed of no moral sense, a
being likely to set a bad example, inculcate vicious habits among
her innocent sisters, and lower the standard of an entire poultry-
yard. The Young Poultry Keeper's Friend gives us no advice on this
topic, and we do not know whether to treat Cannibal Ann as the
victim of a disease, or as a confirmed criminal; whether to
administer remedies or cut her off in the flower of her youth.
We have had a sad scene to-night. A chick has been ailing all day,
and when we shut up the brood we found him dead in a corner.
Phoebe put him on the ground while she busied herself about the
coop. The other chicks came out and walked about the dead one
again and again, eyeing him curiously.
"Poor little chap!" said Phoebe. "E's never 'ad a mother! 'E was
an incubytor chicken, and wherever I took 'im 'e was picked at.
There was somethink wrong with 'im; 'e never was a fyvorite!"
I put the fluffy body into a hole in the turf, and strewed a
handful of grass over him. "Sad little epitaph!" I thought. "He
never was a fyvorite!"
I like to watch the Belgian hares eating their trifolium or pea-
pods or grass; graceful, gentle things they are, crowding about Mr.
Heaven, and standing prettily, not greedily, on their hind legs, to
reach for the clover, their delicate nostrils and whiskers all a-
quiver with excitement.
As I look out of my window in the dusk I can see one of the mothers
galloping across the enclosure, the soft white lining of her tail
acting as a beacon-light to the eight infant hares following her, a
quaint procession of eight white spots in it glancing line. In the
darkest night those baby creatures could follow their mother
through grass or hedge or thicket, and she would need no warning
note to show them where to flee in case of danger. "All you have
to do is to follow the white night-light that I keep in the lining
of my tail," she says, when she is giving her first maternal
lectures; and it seems a beneficent provision of Nature. To be
sure, Mr. Heaven took his gun and went out to shoot wild rabbits
to-day, and I noted that he marked them by those same self-
betraying tails, as they scuttled toward their holes or leaped
toward the protecting cover of the hedge; so it does not appear
whether Nature is on the side of the farmer or the rabbit . . .
There is as much comedy and as much tragedy in poultry life as
anywhere, and already I see rifts within lutes. We have in a cage
a French gentleman partridge married to a Hungarian lady of
defective sight. He paces back and forth in the pen restlessly,
anything but content with the domestic fireside. One can see
plainly that he is devoted to the Boulevards, and that if left to
his own inclinations he would never have chosen any spouse but a
The Hungarian lady is blind of one eye, from some stray shot, I
suppose. She is melancholy at all times, and occasionally goes so
far as to beat her head against the wire netting. If liberated,
Mr. Heaven says that her blindness would only expose her to death
at the hands of the first sportsman, and it always seems to me as
if she knows this, and is ever trying to decide whether a loveless
marriage is any better than the tomb.
Then, again, the great, grey gander is, for some mysterious reason,
out of favour with the entire family. He is a noble and amiable
bird, by far the best all-round character in the flock, for dignity
of mien and large-minded common-sense. What is the treatment
vouchsafed to this blameless husband and father? One that puts
anybody out of sorts with virtue and its scant rewards. To begin
with, the others will not allow him to go into the pond. There is
an organised cabal against it, and he sits solitary on the bank,
calm and resigned, but, naturally, a trifle hurt. His favourite
retreat is a tiny sort of island on the edge of the pool under the
alders, where with his bent head, and red-rimmed philosophic eyes
he regards his own breast and dreams of happier days. When the
others walk into the country twenty-three of them keep together,
and Burd Alane (as I have named him from the old ballad) walks by
himself. The lack of harmony is so evident here, and the slight so
intentional and direct, that it almost moves me to tears. The
others walk soberly, always in couples, but even Burd Alane's
rightful spouse is on the side of the majority, and avoids her
What is the nature of his offence? There can be no connubial
jealousies, I judge, as geese are strictly monogamous, and having
chosen a partner of their joys and sorrows they cleave to each
other until death or some other inexorable circumstance does them
part. If they are ever mistaken in their choice, and think they
might have done better, the world is none the wiser. Burd Alane
looks in good condition, but Phoebe thinks he is not quite himself,
and that some day when he is in greater strength he will turn on
his foes and rend them, regaining thus his lost prestige, for
formerly he was king of the flock.
* * *
Phoebe has not a vestige of sentiment. She just asked me if I
would have a duckling or a gosling for dinner; that there were two
quite ready--the brown and yellow duckling, that is the last to
leave the water at night, and the white gosling that never knows
his own 'ouse. Which would I 'ave, and would I 'ave it with sage
Now, had I found a duckling on the table at dinner I should have
eaten it without thinking at all, or with the thought that it had
come from Barbury Green. But eat a duckling that I have stoned out
of the pond, pursued up the bank, chased behind the wire netting,
caught, screaming, in a corner, and carried struggling to his bed?
Feed upon an idiot gosling that I have found in nine different
coops on nine successive nights--in with the newly-hatched chicks,
the half-grown pullets, the setting hen, the "invaleed goose," the
drake with the gapes, the old ducks in the pen?--Eat a gosling that
I have caught and put in with his brothers and sisters (whom he
never recognises) so frequently and regularly that I am familiar
with every joint in his body?
In the first place, with my own small bump of locality and lack of
geography, I would never willingly consume a creature who might, by
some strange process of assimilation, make me worse in this
respect; in the second place, I should have to be ravenous indeed
to sit down deliberately and make a meal of an intimate friend, no
matter if I had not a high opinion of his intelligence. I should
as soon think of eating the Square Baby, stuffed with sage and
onion and garnished with green apple-sauce, as the yellow duckling
or the idiot gosling.
Mrs. Heaven has just called me into her sitting-room, ostensibly to
ask me to order breakfast, but really for the pleasure of
conversation. Why she should inquire whether I would relish some
gammon of bacon with eggs, when she knows that there has not been,
is not now, and never will be, anything but gammon of bacon with
eggs, is more than I can explain.
"Would you like to see my flowers, miss?" she asks, folding her
plump hands over her white apron. "They are looking beautiful this
morning. I am so fond of potted plants, of plants in pots. Look
at these geraniums! Now, I consider that pink one a perfect bloom;
yes, a perfect bloom. This is a fine red one, is it not, miss?
Especially fine, don't you think? The trouble with the red variety
is that they're apt to get "bobby" and have to be washed regularly;
quite bobby they do get indeed, I assure you. That white one has
just gone out of blossom, and it was really wonderful. You could
'ardly have told it from a paper flower, miss, not from a white
paper flower. My plants are my children nowadays, since Albert
Edward is my only care. I have been the mother of eleven children,
miss, all of them living, so far as I know; I know nothing to the
contrary. I 'ope you are not wearying of this solitary place,
miss? It will grow upon you, I am sure, as it did upon Mrs.
Pollock, with all her peculiar fancies, and as it 'as grown upon
us.--We formerly had a butcher's shop in Buffington, and it was
naturally a great responsibility. Mr. Heaven's nerves are not
strong, and at last he wanted a life of more quietude, more
quietude was what he craved. The life of a retail butcher is a
most exciting and wearying one. Nobody satisfied with their meat;
as if it mattered in a world of change! Everybody complaining of
too much bone or too little fat; nobody wishing tough chops or
cutlets, but always seeking after fine joints, when it's against
reason and nature that all joints should be juicy and all cutlets
tender; always complaining if livers are not sent with every fowl,
always asking you to remember the trimmin's, always wanting their
beef well 'ung, and then if you 'ang it a minute too long, it's
left on your 'ands! I often used to say to Mr. Heaven, yes many's
the time I've said it, that if people would think more of the great
'ereafter and less about their own little stomachs, it would be a
deal better for them, yes, a deal better, and make it much more
comfortable for the butchers!"
* * *
Burd Alane has had a good quarter of an hour to-day.
His spouse took a brief promenade with him. To be sure, it was
during an absence of the flock on the other side of the hedge so
that the moral effect of her spasm of wifely loyalty was quite lost
upon them. I strongly suspect that she would not have granted
anything but a secret interview. What a petty, weak, ignoble
character! I really don't like to think so badly of any fellow-
creature as I am forced to think of that politic, time-serving,
pusillanimous goose. I believe she laid the egg that produced the
Here follows the true story of Sir Muscovy Drake, the Lady Blanche,
and Miss Malardina Crippletoes.
Phoebe's flock consisted at first mostly of Brown Mallards, but a
friend gave her a sitting of eggs warranted to produce a most
beautiful variety of white ducks. They were hatched in due time,
but proved hard to raise, till at length there was only one
survivor, of such uncommon grace and beauty that we called her the
Lady Blanche. Presently a neighbour sold Phoebe his favourite
Muscovy drake, and these two splendid creatures by "natural
selection" disdained to notice the rest of the flock, but forming a
close friendship, wandered in the pleasant paths of duckdom
together, swimming and eating quite apart from the others.
In the brown flock there was one unfortunate, misshapen from the
egg, quite lame, and with no smoothness of plumage; but on that
very account, apparently, or because she was too weak to resist
them, the others treated her cruelly, biting her and pushing her
away from the food.
One day it happened that the two ducks--Sir Muscovy and Lady
Blanche--had come up from the water before the others, and having
taken their repast were sitting together under the shade of a
flowering currant-bush, when they chanced to see poor Miss
Crippletoes very badly used and crowded away from the dish. Sir
Muscovy rose to his feet; a few rapid words seemed to pass between
him and his mate, and then he fell upon the other drake and the
heartless minions who had persecuted the helpless one, drove them
far away out of sight, and, returning, went to the corner where the
victim was cowering, her face to the wall. He seemed to whisper to
her, or in some way to convey to her a sense of protection; for
after a few moments she tremblingly went with him to the dish, and
hurriedly ate her dinner while he stood by, repulsing the advances
of the few brown ducks who remained near and seemed inclined to
When she had eaten enough Lady Blanche joined them, and they went
down the hill together to their favourite swimming-place. After
that Miss Crippletoes always followed a little behind her
protectors, and thus shielded and fed she grew stronger and well-
feathered, though she was always smaller than she should have been
and had a lowly manner, keeping a few steps in the rear of her
superiors and sitting at some distance from their noon resting-
Phoebe noticed after a while that Lady Blanche was seldom to be
seen, and Sir Muscovy and Miss Crippletoes often came to their
meals without her. The would-be mother refused to inhabit the
house Phoebe had given her, and for a long time the place she had
chosen for her sitting could not be found. At length the Square
Baby discovered her in a most ideal spot. A large boulder had
dropped years ago into the brook that fills our duck-pond; dropped
and split in halves with the two smooth walls leaning away from
each other. A grassy bank towered behind, and on either side of
the opening, tall bushes made a miniature forest where the romantic
mother could brood her treasures while her two guardians enjoyed
the water close by her retreat.
All this happened before my coming to Thornycroft Farm, but it was
I who named the hero and heroines of the romance when Phoebe had
told me all the particulars. Yesterday morning I was sitting by my
open window. It was warm, sunny, and still, but in the country
sounds travel far, and I could hear fowl conversation in various
parts of the poultry-yard as well as in all the outlying bits of
territory occupied by our feathered friends. Hens have only three
words and a scream in their language, but ducks, having more
thoughts to express, converse quite fluently, so fluently, in fact,
that it reminds me of dinner at the Hydropathic Hotel. I fancy I
have learned to distinguish seven separate sounds, each varied by
degrees of intensity, and with upward or downward inflections like
the Chinese tongue.
In the distance, then, I heard the faint voice of a duck calling as
if breathless and excited. While I wondered what was happening, I
saw Miss Crippletoes struggling up the steep bank above the duck-
pond. It was the quickest way from the water to the house, but
difficult for the little lame webbed feet. When she reached the
level grass sward she sank down a moment, exhausted; but when she
could speak again she cried out, a sharp staccato call, and ran
Instantly she was answered from a distant knoll, where for some
reason Sir Muscovy loved to retire for meditation. The cries grew
lower and softer as the birds approached each other, and they met
at the corner just under my window. Instantly they put their two
bills together and the loud cries changed to confiding murmurs.
Evidently some hurried questions and answers passed between them,
and then Sir Muscovy waddled rapidly by the quickest path, Miss
Crippletoes following him at a slower pace, and both passed out of
sight, using their wings to help their feet down the steep
declivity. The next morning, when I wakened early, my first
thought was to look out, and there on the sunny greensward where
they were accustomed to be fed, Sir Muscovy, Lady Blanche, and
their humble maid, Malardina Crippletoes, were scattering their own
breakfast before the bills of twelve beautiful golden balls of
ducklings. The little creatures could never have climbed the bank,
but must have started from their nest at dawn, coming round by the
brook to the level at the foot of the garden, and so by slow
degrees up to the house.
Judging from what I heard and knew of their habits, I am sure the
excitement of the previous morning was occasioned by the hatching
of the eggs, and that Lady Blanche had hastily sent her friend to
call Sir Muscovy, the family remaining together until they could
bring the babies with them and display their beauty to Phoebe and
We are not wholly without the pleasures of the town in Barbury
Green. Once or twice in a summer, late on a Saturday afternoon, a
procession of red and yellow vans drives into a field near the
centre of the village. By the time the vans are unpacked all the
children in the community are surrounding the gate of entrance.
There is rifle-shooting, there is fortune-telling, there are games
of pitch and toss, and swings, and French bagatelle; and, to crown
all, a wonderful orchestrion that goes by steam. The water is
boiled for the public's tea, and at the same time thrilling strains
of melody are flung into the air. There is at present only one
tune in the orchestrion's repertory, but it is a very good tune;
though after hearing it three hundred and seven times in a single
afternoon, it pursues one, sleeping and waking, for the next week.
Phoebe and I took the Square Baby and went in to this diversified
entertainment. There was a small crowd of children at the
entrance, but as none of them seemed to be provided with pennies,
and I felt in a fairy godmother mood, I offered them the freedom of
the place at my expense.
I never purchased more radiant good-will for less money, but the
combined effect of the well-boiled tea and the boiling orchestrion
produced many village nightmares, so the mothers told me at chapel
* * *
I have many friends in Barbury Green, and often have a pleasant
chat with the draper, and the watch-maker, and the chemist.
The last house on the principal street is rather an ugly one, with
especially nice window curtains. As I was taking my daily walk to
the post-office (an entirely unfruitful expedition thus far, as
nobody has taken the pains to write to me) I saw a nursemaid coming
out of the gate, wheeling a baby in a perambulator. She was going
placidly away from the Green when, far in the distance, she espied
a man walking rapidly toward us, a heavy Gladstone bag in one hand.
She gazed fixedly for a moment, her eyes brightening and her cheeks
flushing with pleasure,--whoever it was, it was an unexpected
arrival;--then she retraced her steps and, running up the garden-
path, opened the front door and held an excited colloquy with
somebody; a slender somebody in a nice print gown and neatly-
dressed hair, who came to the gate and peeped beyond the hedge
several times, drawing back between peeps with smiles and
heightened colour. She did not run down the road, even when she
had satisfied herself of the identity of the traveller; perhaps
that would not have been good form in an English village, for there
were houses on the opposite side of the way. She waited until he
opened the gate, the nursemaid took the bag and looked discreetly
into the hedge, then the mistress slipped her hand through the
traveller's arm and walked up the path as if she had nothing else
in the world to wish for. The nurse had a part in the joy, for she
lifted the baby out of the perambulator and showed proudly how much
he had grown.
It was a dear little scene, and I, a passer-by, had shared in it
and felt better for it. I think their content was no less because
part of it had enriched my life, for happiness, like mercy, is
twice blessed; it blesses those who are most intimately associated
in it, and it blesses all those who see it, hear it, feel it, touch
it, or breathe the same atmosphere. A laughing, crowing baby in a
house, one cheerful woman singing about her work, a boy whistling
at the plough, a romance just suspected, with its miracle of two
hearts melting into one--the wind's always in the west when you
have any of these wonder-workers in your neighbourhood.
I have talks too, sometimes, with the old parson, who lives in a
quaint house with "Parva Domus Magna Quies" cut into the stone over
the doorway. He is not a preaching parson, but a retired one,
almost the nicest kind, I often think.
He has been married thirty years, he tells me; thirty years, spent
in the one little house with the bricks painted red and grey
alternately, and the scarlet holly-hocks growing under the windows.
I am sure they have been sweet, true, kind years, and that his
heart must be a quiet, peaceful place just like his house and
"I was only eleven years old when I fell in love with my wife," he
told me as we sat on the seat under the lime-tree; he puffing
cosily at his pipe, I plaiting grasses for a hatband.
"It was just before Sunday-school. Her mother had dressed her all
in white muslin like a fairy, but she had stepped on the edge of a
puddle, and some of the muddy water had bespattered her frock. A
circle of children had surrounded her, and some of the motherly
little girls were on their knees rubbing at the spots anxiously,
while one of them wiped away the tears that were running down her
pretty cheeks. I looked! It was fatal! I did not look again, but
I was smitten to the very heart! I did not speak to her for six
years, but when I did, it was all right with both of us, thank God!
and I've been in love with her ever since, when she behaves
That is the way they speak of love in Barbury Green, and oh! how
much sweeter and more wholesome it is than the language of the
town! Who would not be a Goose Girl, "to win the secret of the
weed's plain heart"? It seems to me that in society we are always
gazing at magic-lantern shows, but here we rest our tired eyes with
looking at the stars.
Phoebe and I have been to a Hen Conference at Buffington. It was
for the purpose of raising the standard of the British Hen, and our
local Countess, who is much interested in poultry, was in the
It was a very learned body, but Phoebe had coached me so well that
at the noon recess I could talk confidently with the members,
discussing the various advantages of True and Crossed Minorcas,
Feverels, Andalusians, Cochin Chinas, Shanghais, and the White
Leghorn. (Phoebe, when she pronounces this word, leaves out the
"h" and bears down heavily on the last syllable, so that it rhymes
As I was sitting under the trees waiting for Phoebe to finish some
shopping in the village, a travelling poultry-dealer came along and
offered to sell me a silver Wyandotte pullet and cockerel. This
was a new breed to me and I asked the price, which proved to be
more than I should pay for a hat in Bond Street. I hesitated,
thinking meantime what a delightful parting gift they would be for
Phoebe; I mean if we ever should part, which seems more and more
unlikely, as I shall never leave Thornycroft until somebody comes
properly to fetch me; indeed, unless the "fetching" is done
somewhat speedily I may decline to go under any circumstances. My
indecision as to the purchase was finally banished when the
poultryman asserted that the fowls had clear open centres all over,
black lacing entirely round the white centres, were free from white
edging, and each had a cherry-red eye. This catalogue of charms
inflamed my imagination, though it gave me no mental picture of a
silver Wyandotte fowl, and I paid the money while the dealer
crammed the chicks, squawking into my five-o'clock tea-basket.
The afternoon session of the conference was most exciting, for we
reached the subject of imported eggs, an industry that is assuming
terrifying proportions. The London hotel egg comes from Denmark,
it seems,--I should think by sailing vessel, not steamer, but I may
be wrong. After we had settled that the British Hen should be
protected and encouraged, and agreed solemnly to abstain from
Danish eggs in any form, and made a resolution stating that our
loyalty to Queen Alexandra would remain undiminished, we argued the
subject of hen diet. There was a great difference of opinion here
and the discussion was heated; the honorary treasurer standing for
pulped mangold and flint grit, the chair insisting on barley meal
and randans, while one eloquent young woman declared, to loud cries
of "'Ear, 'ear!" that rice pudding and bone chips produce more eggs
to the square hen than any other sort of food. Impassioned orators
arose here and there in the audience demanding recognition for beef
scraps, charcoal, round corn or buckwheat. Foods were regarded
from various standpoints: as general invigorators, growth
assisters, and egg producers. A very handsome young farmer carried
off final honours, and proved to the satisfaction of all the
feminine poultry-raisers that green young hog bones fresh cut in
the Banner Bone Breaker (of which he was the agent) possessed a
nutritive value not to be expressed in human language.
Phoebe was distinctly nervous when I rose to say a few words on
poultry breeding, announcing as my topic "Mothers, Stepmothers,
Foster-Mothers, and Incubators." Protected by the consciousness
that no one in the assemblage could possibly know me, I made a
distinct success in my maiden speech; indeed, I somewhat overshot
the mark, for the Countess in the chair sent me a note asking me to
dine with her that evening. I suppressed the note and took Phoebe
away before the proceedings were finished, vanishing from the scene
of my triumphs like a veiled prophet.
Just as we were passing out the door we paused to hear the report
of a special committee whose chairman read the following
WHEREAS,--It has pleased the Almighty to remove from our midst our
greatest Rose Comb Buff Orpington fancier and esteemed friend,
Albert Edward Sheridain; therefore be it
RESOLVED,--That the next edition of our catalogue contain an
illustrated memorial page in his honour and
RESOLVED,--That the Rose Comb Buff Orpington Club extend to the
bereaved family their heartfelt sympathy.
The handsome young farmer followed us out to our trap, invited us
to attend the next meeting of the R. C. B. O. Club, of which he was
the secretary, and asked if I were intending to "show." I
introduced Phoebe as the senior partner, and she concealed the fact
that we possessed but one Buff Orpington, and he was a sad
"invaleed" not suitable for exhibition. The farmer's expression as
he looked at me was almost lover-like, and when he pressed a bit of
paper into my hand I was sure it must be an offer of marriage. It
was in fact only a circular describing the Banner Bone Breaker. It
closed with an appeal to Buff Orpington breeders to raise and ever
raise the standard, bidding them remember, in the midst of a low-
minded and sordid civilisation, that the rose comb should be small
and neat, firmly set on, with good working, a nice spike at the
back lying well down to head, and never, under any circumstances,
never sticking up. This adjuration somewhat alarmed us as Phoebe
and I had been giving our Buff Orpington cockerel the most drastic
remedies for his languid and prostrate comb.
Coming home we alighted from the trap to gather hogweed for the
rabbits. I sat by the wayside lazily and let Phoebe gather the
appetising weed, which grows along the thorniest hedges in close
proximity to nettles and thistles.
Workmen were trudging along with their luncheon-baskets of woven
bulrushes slung over their shoulders. Fields of ripening grain lay
on either hand, the sun shining on their every shade of green and
yellow, bronze and orange, while the breeze stirred the bearded
barley into a rippling golden sea.
Phoebe asked me if the people I had left behind at the Hydropathic
were my relatives.
"Some of them are of remote consanguinity," I responded evasively,
and the next question was hushed upon her awe-stricken tongue, as I
"They are obeying my wish to be let alone, there's no doubt of
that," I was thinking. "For my part, I like a little more spirit,
and a little less "letter"!"
As the word "letter" flitted through my thoughts, I pulled one from
my pocket and glanced through it carelessly. It arrived, somewhat
tardily, only last night, or I should not have had it with me. I
wore the same dress to the post-office yesterday that I wore to the
Hen Conference to-day, and so it chanced to be still in the pocket.
If it had been anything I valued, of course I should have lost or
destroyed it by mistake; it is only silly, worthless little things
like this that keep turning up and turning up after one has
forgotten their existence.
"You are a mystery!" [it ran.] "I can apprehend, but not
comprehend you. I know you in part. I understand various bits of
your nature; but my knowledge is always fragmentary and
disconnected, and when I attempt to make a whole of the mosaics I
merely get a kaleidoscopic effect. Do you know those geographical
dissected puzzles that they give to children? You remind me of one
"I have spent many charming (and dangerous) hours trying to "put
you together"; but I find, when I examine my picture closely, that
after all I've made a purple mountain grow out of a green tree;
that my river is running up a steep hillside; and that the pretty
milkmaid, who should be wandering in the forest, is standing on her
head with her pail in the air
"Do you understand yourself clearly? Or is it just possible that
when you dive to the depths of your own consciousness, you
sometimes find the pretty milkmaid standing on her head? I
wonder!" . . .
Ah, well, it is no wonder that he wonders! So do I, for that
Thornycroft Farm seems to be the musical centre of the universe.
When I wake very early in the morning I lie in a drowsy sort of
dream, trying to disentangle, one from the other, the various bird
notes, trills, coos, croons, chirps, chirrups, and warbles.
Suddenly there falls on the air a delicious, liquid, finished song;
so pure, so mellow, so joyous, that I go to the window and look out
at the morning world, half awakened, like myself.
There is I know not what charm in a window that does not push up,
but opens its lattices out into the greenness. And mine is like a
little jewelled door, for the sun is shining from behind the
chimneys and lighting the tiny diamond panes with amber flashes.
A faint delicate haze lies over the meadow, and rising out of it,
and soaring toward the blue is the lark, flinging out that
matchless matin song, so rich, so thrilling, so lavish! As the
blithe melody fades away, I hear the plaintive ballad-fragments of
the robin on a curtsying branch near my window; and there is always
the liquid pipe of the thrush, who must quaff a fairy goblet of dew
between his songs, I should think, so fresh and eternally young is
There is another beautiful song that I follow whenever I hear it,
straining my eyes to the treetops, yet never finding a bird that I
can identify as the singer. Can it be the -
"Ousel-cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill"?
He is called the poet-laureate of the primrose time, but I don't
know whether he sings in midsummer, and I have not seen him
hereabouts. I must write and ask my dear Man of the North. The
Man of the North, I sometimes think, had a Fairy Grandmother who
was a robin; and perhaps she made a nest of fresh moss and put him
in the green wood when he was a wee bairnie, so that he waxed wise
in bird-lore without knowing it. At all events, describe to him
the cock of a head, the glance of an eye, the tip-up of a tail, or
the sheen of a feather, and he will name you the bird. Near-
sighted he is, too, the Man of the North, but that is only for
The Square Baby and I have a new game.
I bought a doll's table and china tea-set in Buffington. We put it
under an apple-tree in the side garden, where the scarlet lightning
grows so tall and the Madonna lilies stand so white against the
flaming background. We built a little fence around it, and every
afternoon at tea-time we sprinkle seeds and crumbs in the dishes,
water in the tiny cups, drop a cherry in each of the fruit-plates,
and have a the chantant for the birdies. We sometimes invite an
"invaleed" duckling, or one of the baby rabbits, or the peacock, in
which case the cards read:-
The pleasure of your company is requested
Under the Apple Tree.
Music at five.
It is a charming game, as I say, but I'd far rather play it with
the Man of the North; he is so much younger than the Square Baby,
and so much more responsive, too.
Thornycroft Farm is a sweet place, too, of odours as well as
sounds. The scent of the hay is for ever in the nostrils, the
hedges are thick with wild honeysuckle, so deliciously fragrant,
the last of the June roses are lingering to do their share, and
blackberry blossoms and ripening fruit as well.
I have never known a place in which it is so easy to be good. I
have not said a word, nor scarcely harboured a thought, that was
not lovely and virtuous since I entered these gates, and yet there
are those who think me fantastic, difficult, hard to please,
I believe the saints must have lived in the country mostly (I am
certain they never tried Hydropathic hotels), and why anybody with
a black heart and natural love of wickedness should not simply buy
a poultry farm and become an angel, I cannot understand.
Living with animals is really a very improving and wholesome kind
of life, to the person who will allow himself to be influenced by
their sensible and high-minded ideals. When you come to think
about it, man is really the only animal that ever makes a fool of
himself; the others are highly civilised, and never make mistakes.
I am going to mention this when I write to somebody, sometime; I
mean if I ever do. To be sure, our human life is much more
complicated than theirs, and I believe when the other animals
notice our errors of judgment they make allowances. The bee is as
busy as a bee, and the beaver works like a beaver, but there their
responsibility ends. The bee doesn't have to go about seeing that
other bees are not crowded into unsanitary tenements or victimised
by the sweating system. When the beaver's day of toil is over he
doesn't have to discuss the sphere, the rights, or the voting
privileges of beaveresses; all he has to do is to work like a
beaver, and that is comparatively simple.
I have been studying The Young Poultry Keeper's Friend of late. If
there is anything I dislike and deplore, it is the possession of
knowledge which I cannot put to practical use. Having discovered
an interesting disease called Scaly Leg in the July number, I took
the magazine out into the poultry-yard and identified the malady on
three hens and a cock. Phoebe joined me in the diagnosis and we
treated the victims with a carbolic lotion and scrubbed them with
As Phoebe and I grow wise in medical lore the case of Cannibal Ann
assumes a different aspect. As the bibulous man quaffs more and
more flagons of beer and wine when his daily food is ham, salt
fish, and cabbage, so does the hen avenge her wrongs of diet and
woes of environment. Cannibal Ann, herself, has, so far as we
know, been raised in a Christian manner and enjoyed all the
advantages of modern methods; but her maternal parent may have
lived in some heathen poultry-yard which was asphalted or bricked
or flagged, so that she was debarred from scratching in Mother
Earth and was forced to eat her own shells in self-defence.
* * *
The Square Baby is not particularly attracted by the poultry as a
whole, save when it is boiled with bacon or roasted with bread-
sauce; but he is much interested in the "invaleeds." Whenever
Phoebe and I start for the hospital with the tobacco-pills, the tin
of paraffin, and the bottle of oil, he is very much in evidence.
Perhaps he has a natural leaning toward the medical profession; at
any rate, when pain and anguish wring the brow, he is in close
attendance upon the ministering angels.
Now it is necessary for the physician to have practice as well as
theory, so the Square Baby, being left to himself this afternoon,
proceeded to perfect himself in some of the healing arts used by
When discovered, he was seated in front of the wire-covered "run"
attached to a coop occupied by the youngest goslings. A couple of
bottles and a box stood by his side, and I should think he had
administered a cup of sweet oil, a pint of paraffin, and a quarter
of a pound of tobacco during his clinic. He had used the remedies
impartially, sometimes giving the paraffin internally and rubbing
the patient's head with tobacco or oil, sometimes the reverse.
Several goslings leaned languidly against the netting, or supported
themselves by the edge of the water-dish, while others staggered
and reeled about with eyes half closed.
It was Mrs. Heaven who caught her son red-handed, so to speak. She
was dressed in her best, and just driving off to Woodmucket to
spend a day or two with her married daughter, and soothe her nerves
with the uproar incident to a town of six hundred inhabitants. She
delayed her journey a half-hour--long enough, in fact, to change
her black silk waist for a loose sacque which would give her arms
full and comfortable play. The joy and astonishment that greeted
the Square Baby on his advent, five years ago, was forgotten for
the first time in his brief life, and he was treated precisely as
any ordinary wrongdoer would have been treated under the same
circumstances, summarily and smartly; the "wepping," as Phoebe
would say, being Mrs. Heaven's hand.
All but one of the goslings lived, like thousands of others who
recover in spite of the doctors, but the Square Baby's interest in
the healing art is now perceptibly lessened.
The day was Friday; Phoebe's day to go to Buffington with eggs and
chickens and rabbits; her day to solicit orders for ducklings and
goslings. The village cart was ready in the stable; Mr. and Mrs.
Heaven were in Woodmucket; I was eating my breakfast (which I
remember was an egg and a rasher) when Phoebe came in, a figure of
The Square Baby was ill, very ill, and would not permit her to
leave him and go to market. Would I look at him? For he must have
dowsed 'imself as well as the goslings yesterday; anyways he was
strong of paraffin and tobacco, though he 'ad 'ad a good barth.
I prescribed for Albert Edward, who was as uncomfortable and
feverish as any little sinner in the county of Sussex, and I then
promptly proposed going to Buffington in Phoebe's place.
She did not think it at all proper, and said that, notwithstanding
my cotton gown and sailor hat, I looked quite, quite the lydy, and
it would never do.
"I cannot get any new orders," said I, "but I can certainly leave
the rabbits and eggs at the customary places. I know Argent's
Dining Parlours, and Songhurst's Tea Rooms, and the Six Bells Inn,
as well as you do."
So, donning a pair of Phoebe's large white cotton gloves with open-
work wrists (than which I always fancy there is no one article that
so disguises the perfect lydy), I set out upon my travels, upborne
by a lively sense of amusement that was at least equal to my
feeling that I was doing Phoebe Heaven a good turn.
Prices in dressed poultry were fluctuating, but I had a copy of The
Trade Review, issued that very day, and was able to get some idea
of values and the state of the market as I jogged along. The
general movement, I learned, was moderate and of a "selective"
character. Choice large capons and ducks were in steady demand,
but I blushed for my profession when I read that roasting chickens
were running coarse, staggy, and of irregular value. Old hens were
held firmly at sixpence, and it is my experience that they always
have to be, at whatever price. Geese were plenty, dull, and weak.
Old cocks,--why don't they say roosters?--declined to threepence
ha'penny on Thursday in sympathy with fowls,--and who shall say
that chivalry is dead? Turkeys were a trifle steadier, and there
was a speculative movement in limed eggs. All this was
illuminating, and I only wished I were quite certain whether the
sympathetic old roosters were threepence ha'penny apiece, or a
Everything happened as it should, on this first business journey of
my life, which is equivalent to saying that nothing happened at
all. Songhurst's Tea Rooms took five dozen eggs and told me to
bring six dozen the next week. Argent's Dining Parlours purchased
three pairs of chickens and four rabbits. The Six Bells found the
last poultry somewhat tough and tasteless; whereupon I said that
our orders were more than we could possibly fill, still I hoped we
could go on "selling them," as we never liked to part with old
customers, no matter how many new ones there were. Privately, I
understood the complaint only too well, for I knew the fowls in
question very intimately. Two of them were the runaway rooster and
the gadabout hen that never wanted to go to bed with the others.
The third was Cannibal Ann. I should have expected them to be
tough, but I cannot believe they were lacking in flavour.
The only troublesome feature of the trip was that Mrs. Sowerbutt's
lodgers had suddenly left for London and she was unable to take the
four rabbits as she had hoped; but as an offset to that piece of
ill-fortune the Coke and Coal Yard and the Bicycle Repairing Rooms
came out into the street, and, stepping up to the trap, requested
regular weekly deliveries of eggs and chickens, and hoped that I
would be able to bring them myself. And so, in a happy frame of
mind, I turned out of the Buffington main street, and was jogging
along homeward, when a very startling thing happened; namely, a
whole verse of the Bailiff's Daughter of Islington:-
"And as she went along the high road,
The weather being hot and dry,
She sat her down upon a green bank,
And her true love came riding by."
That true lovers are given to riding by, in ballads, I know very
well, but I hardly supposed they did so in real life, especially
when every precaution had been taken to avert such a catastrophe.
I had told the Barbury Green postmistress, on the morning of my
arrival, not to give the Thornycroft address to anybody whatsoever,
but finding, as the days passed, that no one was bold enough or
sensible enough to ask for it, I haughtily withdrew my prohibition.
About this time I began sending envelopes, carefully addressed in a
feigned hand, to a certain person at the Oxenbridge Hydro. These
envelopes contained no word of writing, but held, on one day, only
a bit of down from a hen's breast, on another, a goose-quill, on
another, a glossy tail-feather, on another, a grain of corn, and so
on. These trifles were regarded by me not as degrading or
unmaidenly hints and suggestions, but simply as tests of
intelligence. Could a man receive tokens of this sort and fail to
put two and two together? I feel that I might possibly support
life with a domineering and autocratic husband,--and there is every
prospect that I shall be called upon to do so,--but not with a
stupid one. Suppose one were linked for ever to a man capable of
asking,--"Did YOU send those feathers? . . . How was I to guess? .
. . How was a fellow to know they came from you? . . . What on
earth could I suppose they meant? . . . What clue did they offer me
as to your whereabouts? . . . Am I a Sherlock Holmes?"--No, better
eternal celibacy than marriage with such a being!
These were the thoughts that had been coursing through my goose-
girl mind while I had been selling dressed poultry, but in some way
they had not prepared me for the appearance of the aforesaid true
To see the very person whom one has left civilisation to avoid is
always more or less surprising, and to make the meeting less
likely, Buffington is even farther from Oxenbridge than Barbury
Green. The creature was well mounted (ominous, when he came to
override my caprice!) and he looked bigger, and, yes, handsomer,
though that doesn't signify, and still more determined than when I
saw him last; although goodness knows that timidity and feebleness
of purpose were not in striking evidence on that memorable
occasion. I had drawn up under the shade of a tree ostensibly to
eat some cherries, thinking that if I turned my face away I might
pass unrecognised. It was a stupid plan, for if I had whipped up
the mare and driven on, he of course, would have had to follow, and
he has too much dignity and self-respect to shriek recriminations
into a woman's ear from a distance.
He approached with deliberation, reined in his horse, and lifted
his hat ceremoniously. He has an extremely shapely head, but I did
not show that the sight of it melted in the least the ice of my
resolve; whereupon we talked, not very freely at first,--men are so
stiff when they consider themselves injured. However, silence is
even more embarrassing than conversation, so at length I begin:-
Bailiff's Daughter.--"It is a lovely day."
True Love.--"Yes, but the drought is getting rather oppressive,
don't you think?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"The crops certainly need rain, and the feed
is becoming scarce."
True Love.--"Are you a farmer's wife?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Oh no! that is a promotion to look forward
to; I am now only a Goose Girl."
True Love.--"Indeed! If I wished to be severe I might remark:
that I am sure you have found at last your true vocation!"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"It was certainly through no desire to please
YOU that I chose it."
True Love.--"I am quite sure of that! Are you staying in this
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Oh no! I live many miles distant, over an
extremely rough road. And you?"
True Love.--"I am still at the Hydropathic; or at least my luggage
Bailiff's Daughter.--"It must be very pleasant to attract you so
True Love.--"Not so pleasant as it was."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"No? A new proprietor, I suppose."
True Love.--"No; same proprietor; but the house is empty."
Bailiff's Daughter (yawning purposely).--"That is strange; the
hotels are usually so full at this season. Why did so many leave?"
True Love.--"As a matter of fact, only one left. "Full" and
"empty" are purely relative terms. I call a hotel full when it has
you in it, empty when it hasn't."
Bailiff's Daughter (dying to laugh, but concealing her feelings).--
"I trust my bulk does not make the same impression on the general
public! Well, I won't detain you longer; good afternoon; I must go
home to my evening work."
True Love.--"I will accompany you."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"If you are a gentleman you will remain where
True Love.--"In the road? Perhaps; but if I am a man I shall
follow you; they always do, I notice. What are those foolish
bundles in the back of that silly cart?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Feed for the pony, please, sir; fish for
dinner; randans and barley meal for the poultry; and four unsold
rabbits. Wouldn't you like them? Only one and sixpence apiece.
Shot at three o'clock this morning."
True Love.--"Thanks; I don't like mine shot so early."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Oh, well! doubtless I shall be able to
dispose of them on my way home, though times is 'ard!"
True Love.--"Do you mean that you will "peddle" them along the
Bailiff's Daughter.--"You understand me better than usual,--in fact
He dismounts and strides to the back of the cart, lifts the covers,
seizes the rabbits, flings some silver contemptuously into the
basket, and looks about him for a place to bury his bargain. A
small boy approaching in the far distance will probably bag the
Bailiff's Daughter (modestly).--"Thanks for your trade, sir, rather
ungraciously bestowed, and we 'opes for a continuance of your past
True Love (leaning on the wheel of the trap).--"Let us stop this
nonsense. What did you hope to gain by running away?"
Bailiff 's Daughter.--"Distance and absence."
True Love.--"You knew you couldn't prevent my offering myself to
you sometime or other."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Perhaps not; but I could at least defer it,
True Love.--"Why postpone the inevitable?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Doubtless I shrank from giving you the pain
of a refusal."
True Love.--"Perhaps; but do you know what I suspect?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"I'm not a suspicious person, thank goodness!"
True Love.--"That, on the contrary, you are wilfully withholding
from me the joy of acceptance."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"If I intended to accept you, why did I run
True Love.--"To make yourself more desirable and precious, I
Bailiff's Daughter (with the most confident coquetry).--"Did I
True Love.--"No; you failed utterly."
Bailiff's Daughter (secretly piqued).--"Then I am glad I tried it."
True Love.--"You couldn't succeed because you were superlatively
desirable and precious already; but you should never have
experimented. Don't you know that Love is a high explosive?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Is it? Then it ought always to be labelled
"dangerous," oughtn't it? But who thought of suggesting matches?
I'm sure I didn't!"
True Love.--"No such luck; I wish you would."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"According to your theory, if you apply a
match to Love it is likely to 'go off.'"
True Love.--"I wish you would try it on mine and await the result.
Come now, you'll have to marry somebody, sometime."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"I confess I don't see the necessity."
True Love (morosely).--"You're the sort of woman men won't leave in
undisturbed spinsterhood; they'll keep on badgering you."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Oh, I don't mind the badgering of a number of
men; it's rather nice. It's the one badger I find obnoxious."
True Love (impatiently).--"That's just the perversity of things. I
could put a stop to the protestations of the many; I should like
nothing better--but the pertinacity of the one! Ah, well! I can't
drop that without putting an end to my existence."
Bailiff's Daughter (politely).--"I shouldn't think of suggesting
anything so extreme."
True Love (quoting).--"'Mrs. Hauksbee proceeded to take the conceit
out of Pluffles as you remove the ribs of an umbrella before re-
covering.' However, you couldn't ask me anything seriously that I
wouldn't do, dear Mistress Perversity."
Bailiff's Daughter (yielding a point).--"I'll put that boldly to
the proof. Say you don't love me!"
True Love (seizing his advantage).--"I don't! It's imbecile and
besotted devotion! Tell me, when may I come to take you away?"
Bailiff's Daughter (sighing).--"It's like asking me to leave
True Love.--"I know it; she told me where to find you,--Thornycroft
is the seventh poultry-farm I've visited,--but you could never
leave Heaven, you can't be happy without poultry, why that is a
wish easily gratified. I'll get you a farm to-morrow; no, it's
Saturday, and the real estate offices close at noon, but on Monday,
without fail. Your ducks and geese, always carrying it along with
you. All you would have to do is to admit me; Heaven is full of
twos. If you shall swim on a crystal lake--Phoebe told me what a
genius you have for getting them out of the muddy pond; she was
sitting beside it when I called, her hand in that of a straw-
coloured person named Gladwish, and the ground in her vicinity
completely strewn with votive offerings. You shall splash your
silver sea with an ivory wand; your hens shall have suburban
cottages, each with its garden; their perches shall be of satin-
wood and their water dishes of mother-of-pearl. You shall be the
Goose Girl and I will be the Swan Herd--simply to be near you--for
I hate live poultry. Dost like the picture? It's a little like
Claude Melnotte's, I confess. The fact is I am not quite sane;
talking with you after a fortnight of the tabbies at the Hydro is
like quaffing inebriating vodka after Miffin's Food! May I come
Bailiffs Daughter (hedging).--"I shall be rather busy; the Crossed
Minorca hen comes off to-morrow."
True Love.--"Oh, never mind! I'll take her off to-night when I
escort you to the farm; then she'll get a day's advantage."
Bailiff's Daughter.--"And rob fourteen prospective chicks of a
mother; nay, lose the chicks themselves? Never!"
True Love.--"So long as you are a Goose Girl, does it make any
difference whose you are? Is it any more agreeable to be Mrs.
Heaven's Goose Girl than mine?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"Ah! but in one case the term of service is
limited; in the other, permanent."
True Love.--"But in the one case you are the slave of the employer,
in the other the employer of the slave. Why did you run away?"
Bailiff's Daughter.--"A man's mind is too dull an instrument to
measure a woman's reason; even my own fails sometimes to deal with
all its delicate shades; but I think I must have run away chiefly
to taste the pleasure of being pursued and brought back. If it is
necessary to your happiness that you should explore all the
Bluebeard chambers of my being, I will confess further that it has
taken you nearly three weeks to accomplish what I supposed you
would do in three days!"
True Love (after a well-spent interval).--"To-morrow, then; shall
we say before breakfast? All, do! Why not? Well, then,
immediately after breakfast, and I breakfast at seven nowadays, and
sometimes earlier. Do take off those ugly cotton gloves, dear;
they are five sizes too large for you, and so rough and baggy to
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