Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 7



July 12th.

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 the point.

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

"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, miss?"

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 and mother.

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




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