Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 11

 

CHAPTER XI

July 16th.

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

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

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

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 resolutions:--

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

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

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

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 intended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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