Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 8

 

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

July 13th.

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 thorough Parisienne.

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 consort.

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 and onion?

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 idiot gosling!

 
 

 

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