Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 3

 

CHAPTER III

July 8th.

Thornycroft is by way of being a small poultry farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 gratitude.

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.

 

 

 

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