Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 6

 

CHAPTER VI


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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