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Adopting An Abandoned Farm
BY KATE SANBORN
I.--FROM GOTHAM TO GOOSEVILLE
III.--BUYING A HORSE
IV.--FOR THOSE WHO LOVE PETS
V.--STARTING A POULTRY FARM
VIII.--THE PROSE OF NEW ENGLAND FARM LIFE
IX.--THE PASSING OF THE PEACOCKS
An old farm-house with meadows wide,
And sweet with clover on each side.
ADOPTING AN ABANDONED FARM.
FROM GOTHAM TO GOOSEVILLE.
I have now come to the farmer's life, with which I am exceedingly
delighted, and which seems to me to belong especially to the life of
a wise man.
Weary of boarding at seashore and mountain, tired of traveling in search
of comfort, hating hotel life, I visited a country friend at Gooseville,
Conn. (an assumed name for Foxboro, Mass.), and passed three happy weeks
in her peaceful home.
Far away at last from the garish horrors of dress, formal dinners,
visits, and drives, the inevitable and demoralizing gossip and scandal;
far away from hotel piazzas, with their tedious accompaniments of
corpulent dowagers, exclusive or inquisitive, slowly dying from too much
food and too little exercise; ennuied spinsters; gushing buds; athletic
collegians, cigarettes in mouths and hands in pockets; languid, drawling
dudes; old bachelors, fluttering around the fair human flower like
September butterflies; fancy work, fancy work, like Penelope's web,
never finished; pug dogs of the aged and asthmatic variety. Everything
there but MEN--they are wise enough to keep far away.
Before leaving this haven of rest, I heard that the old-fashioned
farm-house just opposite was for sale. And, as purchasers of real estate
were infrequent at Gooseville, it would be rented for forty dollars a
year to any responsible tenant who would "keep it up."
After examining the house from garret to cellar and looking over the
fields with a critical eye, I telegraphed to the owner, fearful of
losing such a prize, that I would take it for three years. For it
captivated me. The cosy "settin'-room," with a "pie closet" and an upper
tiny cupboard known as a "rum closet" and its pretty fire place--bricked
up, but capable of being rescued from such prosaic "desuetude"; a large
sunny dining-room, with a brick oven, an oven suggestive of brown bread
and baked beans--yes, the baked beans of my childhood, that adorned the
breakfast table on a Sunday morning, cooked with just a little molasses
and a square piece of crisp salt pork in center, a dish to tempt a dying
There wore two broad landings on the stairs, the lower one just the
place for an old clock to tick out its impressive
"Forever--Never--Never--Forever" a la Longfellow. Then the long "shed
chamber" with a wide swinging door opening to the west, framing a
sunset gorgeous enough to inspire a mummy. And the attic, with its
There was also a queer little room, dark and mysterious, in the center
of house on the ground floor, without even one window, convenient to
retire to during severe thunder storms or to evade a personal interview
with a burglar; just the place, too, for a restless ghost to revisit.
Best of all, every room was blessed with two closets.
Outside, what rare attractions! Twenty-five acres of arable land,
stretching to the south; a grand old barn, with dusty, cobwebbed,
hay-filled lofts, stalls for two horses and five cows; hen houses, with
plenty of room to carry out a long-cherished plan of starting a poultry
The situation, too, was exceptional, since the station from which I
could take trains direct to Boston and New York almost touched the
northern corner of the farm, and nothing makes one so willing to stay
in a secluded spot as the certainty that he or she can leave it at any
time and plunge directly into the excitements and pleasures which only a
large city gives.
What charmed me most of all was a tiny but fascinating lakelet in the
pasture near the house; a "spring-hole" it was called by the natives,
but a lakelet it was to me, full of the most entrancing possibilities.
It could be easily enlarged at once, and by putting a wind-mill on the
hill, by the deep pool in "Chicken Brook" where the pickerel loved to
sport, and damming something, somewhere, I could create or evolve a
miniature pond, transplant water lilies, pink and white, set willow
shoots around the well-turfed, graveled edge, with roots of the
forget-me-not hiding under the banks their blue blossoms; just the
flower for happy lovers to gather as they lingered in their rambles to
feed my trout. And there should be an arbor, vine-clad and sheltered
from the curious gaze of the passers-by, and a little boat, moored at a
little wharf, and a plank walk leading up to the house. And--and oh, the
idealism possible when an enthusiastic woman first rents a farm--an
It may be more exact to say that my farm was not exactly "abandoned," as
its owner desired a tenant and paid the taxes; say rather depressed,
full of evil from long neglect, suffering from lack of food and general
As "abandoned farms" are now a subject of general interest, let me say
that my find was nothing unusual. The number of farms without occupants
in New Hampshire in August, 1889, was 1,342 and in Maine 3,318; and I
saw lately a farm of twenty acres advertised "free rent and a present of
But it is my farm I want you to care about. I could hardly wait until
winter was over to begin my new avocation. By the last of March I was
assured by practical agriculturists (who regarded me with amusement
tempered with pity) that it was high time to prune the lazy fruit trees
and arouse, if possible, the debilitated soil--in short, begin to "keep
So I left New York for the scene of my future labors and novel lessons
in life, accompanied by a German girl who proved to be merely an
animated onion in matters of cooking, a half-breed hired man, and a
full-bred setter pup who suffered severely from nostalgia and strongly
objected to the baggage car and separation from his playmates.
If wit is, as has been averred, the "juxtaposition of dissimilar ideas,"
then from "Gotham to Gooseville" is the most scintillating epigram ever
achieved. Nothing was going on at Gooseville except time and the milk
wagon collecting for the creamery. The latter came rumbling along every
morning at 4.30 precisely, with a clatter of cans that never failed to
arouse the soundest sleeper.
The general dreariness of the landscape was depressing. Nature herself
seemed in a lethargic trance, and her name was mud.
But with a house to furnish and twenty-five enfeebled acres to
resuscitate, one must not mind. Advanced scientists assure us of life,
motion, even intelligence, appetite, and affection in the most primitive
primordial atoms. So, after a little study, I found that the inhabitants
of Gooseville and its outlying hamlets were neither dead nor sleeping.
It was only by contrast that they appeared comatose and moribund.
Indeed, the degree of gayety was quite startling. I was at once invited
to "gatherings" which rejoiced in the paradoxical title of "Mum
Sociables," where a penalty of five cents was imposed on each person
for speaking (the revenue to go toward buying a new hearse, a cheerful
object of benevolence), and the occasions were most enjoyable. There was
also a "crazy party" at Way-back, the next village. This special form of
lunacy I did not indulge in--farming was enough for me--but the painter
who was enlivening my dining-room with a coating of vivid red and green,
kindly told me all about it, how much I missed, and how the couple
looked who took the first prize. The lady wore tin plates, tin cans, tin
spoons, etc., sewed on to skirt and waist in fantastic patterns, making
music as she walked, and on her head a battered old coffee pot, with
artificial flowers which had outlived their usefulness sticking out of
the spout; and her winning partner was arrayed in rag patchwork of the
most demented variety.
"Youdorter gone" said he; "'twas a great show. But I bet youder beaten
the hull lot on 'em if you'd set your mind on't!"
My walls were now covered with old-fashioned papers, five and ten cents
a roll, and cheap matting improved the floors. But how to furnish eleven
rooms? This brings me to--
"Going, going, gone."
Next came the excitement of auctions, great occasions, and of vital
importance to me, as I was ambitious to furnish the entire house for one
When the head of a family dies a settlement of the estate seems to make
an auction necessary. I am glad of the custom, it proved of invaluable
service to me, and the mortality among old people was quite phenomenal
at Gooseville and thereabouts last year. While I deeply regretted the
demise of each and all, still this general taking off was opportune for
There were seventeen auctions last season, and all but two were
attended by me or my representatives.
A country auction is not so exciting as one in the city; still you must
be wide-awake and cool, or you will be fleeced. An experienced friend,
acquainted with the auctioneer, piloted me through my first sale, and
for ten dollars I bought enough really valuable furniture to fill a
large express wagon--as a large desk with drawers, little and big,
fascinating pigeon holes, and a secret drawer, for two dollars; queer
old table, ten cents; good solid chairs, nine cents each; mahogany
center-table, one dollar and sixteen cents; and, best of all, a tall and
venerable clock for the landing, only eight dollars! Its "innards" sadly
demoralized, but capable of resuscitation, the weights being tin-cans
filled with sand and attached by strong twine to the "works." It has to
be wound twice daily, and when the hour hand points to six and the other
to ten, I guess that it is about quarter past two, and in five minutes
I hear the senile timepiece strike eleven!
The scene was unique. The sale had been advertised in post-office and
stores as beginning at 10 A.M., but at eleven the farmers and their
women folks were driving toward the house. A dozen old men, chewing
tobacco and looking wise, were in the barn yard examining the stock to
be sold, the carts and farming tools; a flock of hens were also to be
disposed of, at forty cents each.
On such occasions the families from far and near who want to dispose of
any old truck are allowed to bring it to add to the motley display. The
really valuable possessions, if any, are kept back, either for private
sale or to be divided among the heirs. I saw genuine antiques
occasionally--old oak chests, finely carved oaken chairs--but these were
rare. After the horses have been driven up and down the street, and
with the other stock disposed of, it is time for lunch. Following the
crowd into the kitchen, you see two barrels of crackers open, a mammoth
cheese of the skim-milk species with a big knife by it, and on the stove
a giant kettle in which cotton bags full of coffee are being distilled
in boiling water. You are expected to dip a heavy white mug into the
kettle for your share of the fragrant reviving beverage, cut off a hunk
of cheese, and eat as many crackers as you can. It tasted well, that
informal "free lunch."
Finding after one or two trials that the interested parties raised
rapidly on anything I desired. I used to send Gusta and John, nicknamed
very properly "Omniscience and Omnipotence," which names did equally
well when reversed (like a paper cuff), and they, less verdant than
their mistress, would return with an amazing array of stuff. We now have
everything but a second-hand pulpit, a wooden leg, and a coffin plate.
We utilized a cradle and antique churn as a composite flower stand; an
immense spinning-wheel looks pretty covered with running vines, an old
carriage lantern gleams brightly on my piazza every evening. I nearly
bought a horse for fifteen dollars, and did secure a wagon for one
dollar and a half, which, after a few needed repairs, costing only
twenty-six dollars, was my pride, delight and comfort, and the envy of
the neighborhood. Men came from near and far to examine that wagon, felt
critically of every wheel, admired the shining coat of dark-green paint,
and would always wind up with: "I vum, if that 'ere wagon ain't fine!
Why, it's wuth fifty dollars, now, ef it's wuth a cent!" After a hard
day's work, it seemed a gratification to them to come with lanterns to
renew their critical survey, making a fine Rembrandtish study as they
stood around it and wondered. A sleigh was bought for three dollars
which, when painted by our home artist, is both comfortable and
At one auction, where I was the only woman present, I bid on three
shovels (needed to dig worms for my prize hens!) and, as the excitement
increased with a rise in bids from two cents to ten, I cried, "Eleven!"
And the gallant old fellow in command roared out as a man opened his
mouth for "Twelve!": "I wouldn't bid ag'in a woman ef I'se you. Let 'er
have 'em! Madam, Mum, or Miss--I can't pernounce your name and don't
rightly know how to spell it--but the shovels are yourn!"
Attending auctions may be an acquired taste, but it grows on one like
any other habit, and whenever a new and tempting announcement calls, I
rise to the occasion and hasten to the scene of action, be the weather
what it may. And many a treasure has been picked up in this way. Quaint
old mirrors with the queerest pictures above, brass knockers,
candlesticks of queer patterns, cups and saucers and plates, mugs of all
sizes, from one generous enough to satisfy the capacities of a
lager-soaked Dutchman to a dear little child's mug, evidently once
belonging to a series. Mine was for March. A mother sitting on a bench,
with a bowl of possibly Lenten soup by her side, is reproving a fat
little fellow for his gross appetite at this solemn season. He is
weeping, and on her other side a pet dog is pleading to be fed. The
rhyme explains the reason:
The jovial days of feasting past,
'Tis pious prudence come at last;
And eager gluttony is taught
To be content with what it ought.
A warming pan and a foot stove, just as it was brought home from a merry
sleigh-ride, or a solemn hour at the "meetin'-house," recalling that
line of Thomas Gray's:
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.
Sometimes I would offer a little more to gain some coveted treasure
already bid off. How a city friend enjoyed the confidences of a man who
had agreed to sell for a profit! How he chuckled as he told of "one of
them women who he guessed was a leetle crazy." "Why, jest think on't! I
only paid ten cents for that hull lot on the table yonder, and she"
(pointing to me) "she gin me a quarter for that old pair o' tongs!"
One day I heard some comments on myself after I had bid on a rag carpet
and offered more than the other women knew it was worth.
"She's got a million, I hear."
"No; just an old maid."
"Judas Priest! Howd she git it?"
"Writin', I 'spoze. She writes love stories and sich for city papers.
Some on 'em makes a lot."
It is not always cheering to overhear too much. When some of my friends,
whom I had taken to a favorite junk shop, felt after two hours of
purchase and exploration that they must not keep me waiting any longer,
the man, in his eagerness to make a few more sales, exclaimed: "Let her
wait; her time ain't wuth nothin'!"
At an auction last summer, one man told me of a very venerable lantern,
an heirloom in his first wife's family, so long, measuring nearly a
yard with his hands. I said I should like to go with him to see it, as I
was making a collection of lanterns. He looked rather dazed, and as I
turned away he inquired of my friend "if I wusn't rather--" She never
allowed him to finish, and his lantern is now mine.
People seem to have but little sentiment about their associations with
furniture long in the family.
The family and a few intimate friends usually sit at the upper windows
gazing curiously on the crowd, with no evidence of feeling or pathetic
I lately heard a daughter say less than a month after her father's
death, pointing to a small cretonne-covered lounge: "Father made me that
lounge with his own hands when I's a little girl. He tho't a sight on't
it, and allers kep' it 'round. But my house is full now. I ain't got no
room for't." It sold for twelve cents!
Arthur Helps says that human nature craves, nay enjoys, tragedy; and
when away from dramatic representation of crime and horrors and sudden
death, as in this quiet country life, the people gratify their needs in
the sorrows, sins, and calamities that befall their neighbors.
I strongly incline to Hawthorne's idea that furniture becomes
magnetized, permeated, semi-vitalized, so that the chairs, sofas, and
tables that have outlived their dear owners in my own family have almost
a sacred value to me.
Still, why moralize. Estates must be settled, and auctions are a
blessing in disguise.
Of course, buying so much by substitutes, I amassed a lot of curious
things, of which I did not know the use or value, and therefore greatly
enjoyed the experience of the Spectator as given in the Christian Union.
He attended an auction with the following result: "A long table was
covered with china, earthenware, and glass; and the mantel beyond, a
narrow shelf quite near the ceiling, glittered with a tangled maze of
clean brass candlesticks, steel snuffers, and plated trays. At one end
dangled a huge warming pan, and on the wall near it hung a bit of
canvas in a gilded frame, from which the portrait had as utterly faded
as he whom it represented had vanished into thin air. It was a strange
place, a room from which many a colonial citizen had passed to take a
stroll upon the village street; and here, in sad confusion to be sure,
the dishes that graced his breakfast table. The Spectator could have
lingered there if alone for half a day, but not willingly for half an
hour in such a crowd. The crowd, however, closed every exit and he had
to submit. A possible chance to secure some odd bit was his only
consolation. Why the good old soul who last occupied the house, and who
was born in it fourscore years ago, should necessarily have had only her
grandmother's tableware, why every generation of this family should have
suffered no losses by breakage, was not asked. Every bit, even to
baking-powder prizes of green and greasy glass, antedated the
Revolution, and the wise and mighty of Smalltown knew no better. A bit
of egg shell sticking to a cracked teacup was stolen as a relic of
Washington's last breakfast in Smalltown.
* * * * *
"While willow-pattern china was passing into other hands the Spectator
made a discovery. A curious piece of polished, crooked mahogany was seen
lying between soup tureens and gravy boats. He picked it up cautiously,
fearing to attract attention, and, with one eye everywhere else, scanned
it closely. What a curious paper-knife! he thought, and slyly tucked it
back of a pile of plates. This must be kept track of; it may prove a
veritable prize. But all his care went for naught. A curious old lady at
his elbow had seen every action. 'What is it?' she asked, and the wooden
wonder was brought to light. 'It's an old-fashioned wooden butter
knife. I've seen 'em 'afore this. Don't you know in old times it wasn't
everybody as had silver, and mahogany knives for butter was put on the
table for big folks. We folks each used our own knife.' All this was
dribbled into the Spectator's willing ears, and have the relic he would
at any cost. Time and again he nervously turned it over to be sure that
it was on the table, and so excited another's curiosity. 'What is it?' a
second and still older lady asked. 'A colonial butter knife,' the
Spectator replied with an air of much antiquarian lore. 'A butter knife!
No such thing. My grandfather had one just like this, and it's a pruning
knife. He wouldn't use a steel knife because it poisoned the sap.' What
next? Paper knife, butter knife, and pruning knife! At all events every
new name added a dollar to its value, and the Spectator wondered what
the crowd would say, for now it was in the auctioneer's hands. He
looked at it with a puzzled expression and merely cried: 'What is bid
for this?' His ignorance was encouraging. It started at a dime and the
Spectator secured it for a quarter. For a moment he little wondered at
the fascination of public sales. The past was forgiven, for now luck had
turned and he gloried in the possession of a prize.
"To seek the outer world was a perilous undertaking for fear that the
triply-named knife might come to grief; but a snug harbor was reached at
last, and hugging the precious bit, the Spectator mysteriously
disappeared on reaching his home. No one must know of his success until
the mystery was cleaned, brightened, and restored to pristine beauty.
The Spectator rubbed the gummy surface with kerosene, and then polished
it with flannel. Then warm water and a tooth brush were brought into
play, and the oil all removed. Then a long dry polishing, and the
restoration was complete. Certainly no other Smalltowner had such a
wooden knife; and it was indeed beautiful. Black in a cross light, red
in direct light, and kaleidoscopic by gaslight. Ah, such a prize! The
family knew that something strange was transpiring, but what no one had
an inkling. They must wait patiently, and they did. The Spectator
proudly appeared, his prize in hand. 'See there!' he cried in triumph,
and they all looked eagerly; and when the Spectator's pride was soaring
at its highest, a younger daughter cried, 'Why, papa, it's the back of a
hair-brush!' And it was."
An auctioneer usually tries to be off-hand, waggish, and brisk--a cross
between a street peddler and a circus clown, with a hint of the forced
mirth of the after-dinner speaker. Occasionally the jokes are good and
the answers from the audience show the ready Yankee wit.
Once an exceedingly fat man, too obese to descend from his high wagon,
bought an immense dinner bell and he was hit unmercifully. A rusty old
fly-catcher elicited many remarks--as "no flies on that." I bought
several chests, half full of rubbish, but found, alas! no hidden
treasure, no missing jewels, no money hid away by miserly fingers and
forgotten. Jake Corey, who was doing some work for me, encouraged me to
hope. He said: "I hear ye patronize auctions putty reg'lar; sometimes
there is a good deal to be made that way, and then ag'in there isn't. I
never had no luck that way, but it's like getting married, it's a
lottery! Folks git queer and put money in some spot, where they're apt
to forgit all about it. Now I knew a man who bought an old hat and a
sight of other stuff; jest threw in the hat. And when he got home and
come to examine it ef thar warn't three hundred dollars in good bills,
chucked in under the sweater!"
"You ought to git over to Mason's auction to Milldon, sure. It's day
after to-morrow at nine sharp. You see he'd a fortune left him, but he
run straight through it buying the goldarndest things you ever heerd
tell on--calves with six legs, dogs with three eyes or two tails, steers
that could be druv most as well as hosses (Barnum he got hold o' 'em and
tuk 'em round with his show); all sorts o' curious fowl and every
outlandish critter he could lay his hands on. 'T stands to reason he
couldn't run that rig many years. Your goin's on here made me think o'
Mason. He cut a wide swath for a time.
"Wall, I hope you'll come off better'n he did. He sunk such a pile that
he got discouraged and took to drink; then his wife, a mighty likely
woman she is (one o' the Batchelders of Dull Corner), couldn't stand it
and went back to her old home, and he died ragged and friendless about a
month ago. Ef I's you, I'd go over, just to take warning and hold up in
BUYING A HORSE.
"And you know this Deacon Elkins to be a thoroughly reliable man in
"Indeed, I do," said honest Nathan Robbins. "He is the very soul of
honor; couldn't do a mean thing. I'd trust him with all I have."
"Well, I'm glad to hear this, for I'm just going to buy a horse of
"Then I don't know anything about him!"
A TRUE TALE.
After furnishing my house in the aforesaid economical and nondescript
fashion, came the trials of "planting time." This was such an unfragrant
and expensive period that I pass over it as briefly as possible. I saw
it was necessary in conformity with the appalling situation to alter one
vowel in my Manorial Hall. The haul altogether amounted to eighteen
loads besides a hundred bags of vilely smelling fertilizers. Agents for
every kind of phosphates crowded around me, descanting on the needs of
the old land, until I began to comprehend what the owner meant by
"keeping it up." With Gail Hamilton, I had supposed the entire land of
this earth to be pretty much the same age until I adopted the
"abandoned." This I found was fairly senile in its worthless
My expenditure was something prodigious.
Yes, "planting time" was a nightmare in broad daylight, but as I look
back, it seems a rosy dream, compared with the prolonged agonies of
buying a horse!
All my friends said I must have a horse to truly enjoy the country, and
it seemed a simple matter to procure an animal for my own use.
Livery-stable keepers, complaisant and cordial, were continually
driving around the corner into my yard, with a tremendous flourish and
style, chirking up old by-gones, drawing newly painted buggies,
patched-up phaetons, two-seated second-hand "Democrats," high wagons, low
chaises, just for me to try. They all said that seeing I was a lady and
had just come among 'em, they would trade easy and treat me well. Each
mentioned the real value, and a much lower price, at which I, as a
special favor, could secure the entire rig. Their prices were all
abominably exorbitant, so I decided to hire for a season. The dozen
beasts tried in two months, if placed in a row, would cure the worst
case of melancholia. Some shied; others were liable to be overcome by
"blind staggers"; three had the epizootic badly, and longed to lie down;
one was nearly blind. At last I was told of a lady who desired to leave
her pet horse and Sargent buggy in some country home during her three
months' trip abroad.
Both were so highly praised as just the thing that I took them on
I judge that a woman can lie worse than a man about a horse!
"You will love my Nellie" she wrote. "I hate to part with her, even for
the summer. She has been a famous racer in Canada--can travel easily
twenty-five miles a day. Will go better at the end of the journey than
at the beginning. I hear you are an accomplished driver, so I send my
pet to your care without anxiety."
I sent a man to her home to drive out with this delightful treasure, and
pictured myself taking long and daily drives over our excellent country
roads. Nellie, dear Nellie; I loved her already. How I would pet her,
and how fond she would become of me. Two lumps of sugar at least, every
day for her, and red ribbons for the whip. How she would dash along! A
horse for me at last! About 1.45 A.M., of the next day, a carriage was
heard slowly entering the yard. I could hardly wait until morning to
gloat over my gentle racer! At early dawn I visited the stable and found
John disgusted beyond measure with my bargain. A worn-out, tumble-down,
rickety carriage with wobbling wheels, and an equally worn-out, thin,
dejected, venerable animal, with an immense blood spavin on left hind
leg, recently blistered! It took three weeks of constant doctoring,
investment in Kendall's Spavin Cure, and consultation with an expensive
veterinary surgeon, to get the whilom race horse into a condition to
slowly walk to market. I understood now the force of the one truthful
clause--"She will go better at the end of the drive than at the
beginning," for it was well-nigh impossible to get her stiff legs
started without a fire kindled under them and a measure of oats held
enticingly before her. It was enraging, but nothing to after
experiences. All the disappointed livery men, their complaisance and
cordiality, wholly a thing of the past, were jubilant that I had been so
imposed upon by some one, even if they had failed. And their looks, as
they wheeled rapidly by me, as I crept along with the poor, suffering,
limping "Nellie," were almost more than I could endure.
Horses were again brought for inspection, and there was a repetition of
previous horrors. At last a man came from Mossgrown. He had an honest
face; he knew of a man who knew of a man whose brother had just the
horse for me, "sound, stylish, kind, gentle as a lamb, fast as the
wind." Profiting by experience, I said I would look at it. Next day, a
young man, gawky and seemingly unsophisticated, brought the animal. It
looked well enough, and I was so tired. He was anxious to sell, but
only because he was going to be married and go West; needed money. And
he said with sweet simplicity: "Now I ain't no jockey, I ain't! You
needn't be afeard of me--I say just what I mean. I want spot cash, I do,
and you can have horse, carriage, and harness for $125 down." He gave me
a short drive, and we did go "like the wind." I thought the steed very
hard to hold in, but he convinced me that it was not so. I decided to
take the creature a week on trial, which was a blow to that guileless
young man. And that very afternoon I started for the long, pleasant
drive I had been dreaming about since early spring.
The horse looked quiet enough, but I concluded to take my German
domestic along for extra safety. I remembered his drawling direction,
"Doan't pull up the reins unless you want him to go pretty lively," so
held the reins rather loosely for a moment only, for this last hope
wheeled round the corner as if possessed, and after trotting, then
breaking, then darting madly from side to side, started into a full run.
I pulled with all my might; Gusta stood up and helped. No avail. On we
rushed to sudden death. No one in sight anywhere. With one Herculean
effort, bred of the wildest despair, we managed to rein him in at a
sharp right angle, and we succeeded in calming his fury, and tied the
panting, trembling fiend to a post. Then Gusta mounted guard while I
walked home in the heat and dirt, fully half a mile to summon John.
I learned that that horse had never before been driven by a woman. He
evidently was not pleased.
Soon the following appeared among the local items of interest in the
Uriel Snooks, who has been working in the cheese factory at
Frogville, is now to preside over chair number four in Baldwin's
Tonsorial Establishment on Main Street.
Kate Sanborn is trying another horse.
These bits of information in the papers were a boon to the various
reporters, but most annoying to me. The Bungtown Gazetteer announced
that "a well-known Boston poetess had purchased the Britton Farm, and
was fitting up the old homestead for city boarders!" I couldn't import a
few hens, invest in a new dog, or order a lawn mower, but a full account
would grace the next issue of all the weeklies. I sympathized with the
old woman who exclaimed in desperation:
"Great Jerusalem, ca'nt I stir,
Without a-raisin' some feller's fur?"
At last I suspected the itinerant butcher of doing double duty as a
reporter, and found that he "was engaged by several editors to pick up
bits of news for the press" as he went his daily rounds. "But this," I
exclaimed, "is just what I don't want and can't allow. Now if you should
drive in here some day and discover me dead, reclining against yonder
noble elm, or stark at its base, surrounded by my various pets, don't
allude to it in the most indirect way. I prefer the funeral to be
strictly private. Moreover, if I notice another 'item' about me, I'll
buy of your rival." And the trouble ceased.
But the horses! Still they came and went. I used to pay my friend the
rubicund surgeon to test some of these highly recommended animals in a
short drive with me.
One pronounced absolutely unrivaled was discovered by my wise mentor to
be "watch-eyed," "rat-tailed," with a swollen gland on the neck, would
shy at a stone, stand on hind legs for a train, with various other minor
defects. I grew fainthearted, discouraged, cynical, bitter. Was there no
horse for me? I became town-talk as "a drefful fussy old maid who
didn't know her own mind, and couldn't be suited no way."
I remember one horse brought by a butcher from West Bungtown. It was, in
the vernacular, a buck-skin. Hide-bound, with ribs so prominent they
suggested a wash-board. The two fore legs were well bent out at the
knees; both hind legs were swelled near the hoofs. His ears nearly as
large as a donkey's; one eye covered with a cataract, the other deeply
sunken. A Roman nose, accentuated by a wide stripe, aided the pensive
expression of his drooping under lip. He leaned against the shafts as if
he were tired.
"There, Marm," said the owner, eying my face as an amused expression
stole over it; "ef you don't care for style, ef ye want a good, steddy
critter, and a critter that can go, and a critter that any lady can
drive, there's the critter for ye!"
I did buy at last, for life had become a burden. An interested
neighbor (who really pitied me?) induced me to buy a pretty little black
horse. I named him "O.K."
After a week I changed to "N.G."
After he had run away, and no one would buy him, "D.B."
At last I succeeded in exchanging this shying and dangerous creature for
a melancholy, overworked mare at a livery stable. I hear that "D.B." has
since killed two I-talians by throwing them out when not sufficiently
inebriated to fall against rocks with safety.
And my latest venture is a backer.
Horses have just as many disagreeable traits, just as much individuality
in their badness, as human beings. Under kind treatment, daily petting,
and generous feeding, "Dolly" is too frisky and headstrong for a lady to
"Sell that treacherous beast at once or you will be killed," writes an
anxious friend who had a slight acquaintance with her moods.
I want now to find an equine reliance whose motto is "Nulla vestigia
retrorsum," or "No steps backward."
I have pasted Mr. Hale's famous motto, "Look forward and not back," over
her stall--but with no effect. The "Lend a Hand" applies to those we
yell for when the backing is going on.
By the way, a witty woman said the other day that men always had the
advantage. A woman looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt;
Bellamy looked back and made sixty thousand dollars.
Mr. Robert B. Roosevelt, in his amusing book "Five Acres too Much" gives
even a more tragic picture, saying: "My experience of horseflesh has
been various and instructive. I have been thrown over their heads and
slid over their tails; have been dragged by saddle, stirrups, and tossed
out of wagons. I have had them to back and to kick, to run and to bolt,
to stand on their hind feet and kick with their front, and then
reciprocate by standing on their front and kicking with their hind
feet.... I have been thrown much with horses and more by them."
"Horses are the most miserable creatures, invariably doing precisely
what they ought not to do; a pest, a nuisance, a bore." Or, as some one
else puts it:
"A horse at its best is an amiable idiot; at its worst, a dangerous
FOR THOSE WHO LOVE PETS.
"All were loved and all were regretted, but life is made up of
"The best thing which a man possesses is his dog."
When I saw a man driving into my yard after this, I would dart out of a
back door and flee to sweet communion with my cows.
On one such occasion I shouted back that I did not want a horse of any
variety, could not engage any fruit trees, did not want the place
photographed, and was just going out to spend the day. I was courteously
but firmly informed that my latest visitor had, singular to relate, no
horse to dispose of, but he "would like fourteen dollars for my dog tax
for the current year!" As he was also sheriff, constable, and justice
of the peace, I did not think it worth while to argue the question,
although I had no more thought of being called up to pay a dog tax than
a hen tax or cat tax. I trembled, lest I should be obliged to enumerate
my entire menagerie--cats, dogs, canaries, rabbits, pigs, ducks, geese,
hens, turkeys, pigeons, peacocks, cows, and horses.
Each kind deserves an entire chapter, and how easy it would be to write
of cats and their admirers from Cambyses to Warner; of dogs and their
friends from Ulysses to Bismarck. I agree with Ik Marvel that a cat is
like a politician, sly and diplomatic; purring--for food; and
affectionate--for a consideration; really caring nothing for friendship
and devotion, except as means to an end. Those who write books and
articles and verse and prose tributes to cats think very differently,
but the cats I have met have been of this type.
And dogs. Are they really so affectionate, or are they also a little
shrewd in licking the hand that feeds them? I dislike to be pessimistic.
But when my dogs come bounding to meet me for a jolly morning greeting
they do seem expectant and hungry rather than affectionate. At other
hours of the day they plead with loving eyes and wagging tails for a
walk or a seat in the carriage or permission to follow the wagon.
But I will not analyze their motives. They fill the house and grounds
with life and frolic, and a farm would be incomplete if they were
missing. Hamerton, in speaking of the one dog, the special pet and dear
companion of one's youth, observes that "the comparative shortness of
the lives of dogs is the only imperfection in the relation between them
and us. If they had lived to three-score and ten, man and dog might have
traveled through life together, but, as it is, we must either have a
succession of affections, or else, when the first is buried in its early
grave, live in a chill condition of dog-less-ness."
I thank him for that expressive compound word. Almost every one might,
like Grace Greenwood and Gautier, write a History of my Pets and make a
readable book. Carlyle, the grand old growler, was actually attached to
a little white dog--his wife's special delight, for whom she used to
write cute little notes to the master. And when he met with a fatal
accident, he was tenderly nursed by both for months, and when the doctor
was at last obliged to put him out of pain by prussic acid, their grief
was sincere. They buried him at the top of the garden in Cheyne Row, and
planted cowslips round his grave, and his mistress placed a stone
tablet, with name and date, to mark the last resting place of her
"I could not have believed," writes Carlyle in the Memorials, "my grief
then and since would have been the twentieth part of what it was--nay,
that the want of him would have been to me other than a riddance. Our
last midnight walk together (for he insisted on trying to come), January
31st, is still painful to my thought. Little dim, white speck of life,
of love, of fidelity, girdled by the darkness of night eternal."
Beecher said many a good thing about dogs, but I like this best:
Speaking of horseback riding, he incidentally remarked that in
evolution, the human door was just shut upon the horse, but the dog got
fully up before the door was shut. If there was not reason,
mirthfulness, love, honor, and fidelity in a dog, he did not know where
to look for it. Oh, if they only could speak, what wise and humorous and
sarcastic things they would say! Did you never feel snubbed by an
immense dog you had tried to patronize? And I have seen many a dog
smile. Bayard Taylor says: "I know of nothing more moving, indeed
semi-tragic, than the yearning helplessness in the face of a dog, who
understands what is said to him, and can not answer!"
Dr. Holland wrote a poem to his dog Blanco, "his dear, dumb friend," in
which he expresses what we all have felt many times.
I look into your great brown eyes,
Where love and loyal homage shine,
And wonder where the difference lies
Between your soul and mine.
The whole poem is one of the best things Holland ever did in rhyme. He
was ambitious to be remembered as a poet, but he never excelled in verse
unless he had something to express that was very near his heart. He was
emphatically the Apostle of Common Sense. How beautifully he closes his
Ah, Blanco, did I worship God
As truly as you worship me,
Or follow where my Master trod
With your humility,
Did I sit fondly at his feet
As you, dear Blanco, sit at mine,
And watch him with a love as sweet,
My life would grow divine!
Almost all our great men have more than one dog in their homes. When I
spent a day with the Quaker poet at Danvers, I found he had three dogs.
Roger Williams, a fine Newfoundland, stood on the piazza with the
questioning, patronizing air of a dignified host; a bright-faced Scotch
terrier, Charles Dickens, peered at us from the window, as if glad of a
little excitement; while Carl, the graceful greyhound, was indolently
coiled up on a shawl and took little notice of us.
Whittier has also a pet cow, favorite and favored, which puts up her
handsome head for an expected caress. The kindly hearted old poet, so
full of tenderness for all created things, told me that years when nuts
were scarce he would put beech nuts and acorns here and there as he
walked over his farm, to cheer the squirrels by an unexpected find.
Miss Mitford's tribute to her defunct doggie shows to what a degree of
imbecility an old maid may carry fondness for her pets, but it is
"My own darling Mossy's hair, cut off after he was dead by dear Drum,
August 22, 1819. He was the greatest darling that ever lived (son of
Maria and Mr. Webb's 'Ruler,' a famous dog given him by Lord Rivers),
and was, when he died, about seven or eight years old. He was a large
black dog, of the largest and strongest kind of greyhounds; very fast
and honest, and resolute past example; an excellent killer of hares, and
a most magnificent and noble-looking creature. His coat was of the
finest and most glossy black, with no white, except a very little under
his feet (pretty white shoe linings I used to call them)--a little
beautiful white spot, quite small, in the very middle of his neck,
between his chin and his breast--and a white mark on his bosom. His face
was singularly beautiful; the finest black eyes, very bright, and yet
sweet, and fond, and tender--eyes that seemed to speak; a beautiful,
complacent mouth, which used sometimes to show one of the long white
teeth at the side; a jet black nose; a brow which was bent and flexible,
like Mr. Fox's, and gave great sweetness and expression, and a look of
thought to his dear face. There never was such a dog! His temper was,
beyond comparison, the sweetest ever known. Nobody ever saw him out of
humor. And his sagacity was equal to his temper. Thank God, he went off
without suffering. He must have died in a moment. I thought I should
have broken my heart when I came home and found what had happened. I
shall miss him every moment of my life; I have missed him every instant
to-day--so have Drum and Granny. He was laid out last night in the
stable, and this morning we buried him in the middle plantation on the
house side of the fence, in the flowery corner, between the fence and
Lord Shrewsbury's fields. We covered his dear body with flowers; every
flower in the garden. Everybody loved him; 'dear saint,' as I used to
call him, and as I do not doubt he now is!! No human being was ever so
faithful, so gentle, so generous, and so fond! I shall never love
anything half so well.
"It will always be pleasant to me to remember that I never teased him by
petting other things, and that everything I had he shared. He always ate
half my breakfast, and the very day before he died I fed him all the
morning with filberts." (There may have been a connection between the
filberts and the funeral.)
"While I had him, I was always sure of having one who would love me
alike in riches or poverty, who always looked at me with looks of the
fondest love, always faithful and always kind. To think of him was a
talisman against vexing thoughts. A thousand times I have said, 'I want
my Mossy,' when that dear Mossy was close by and would put his dear
black nose under my hand on hearing his name. God bless you, my Mossy! I
cried when you died, and I can hardly help crying whenever I think of
you. All who loved me loved Mossy. He had the most perfect confidence in
me--always came to me for protection against any one who threatened him,
and, thank God, always found it. I value all things he had lately or
ever touched; even the old quilt that used to be spread on my bed for
him to lie on, and which we called Mossy's quilt; and the pan that he
used to drink out of in the parlor, and which was always called Mossy's
pan, dear darling!
"I forgot to say that his breath was always sweet and balmy; his coat
always glossy like satin; and he never had any disease or anything to
make him disagreeable in his life. Many other things I have omitted; and
so I should if I were to write a whole volume of his praise; for he was
above all praise, sweet angel! I have inclosed some of his hair, cut off
by papa after his death, and some of the hay on which he was laid out.
He died Saturday, the 21st of August, 1819, at Bertram House. Heaven
bless him, beloved angel!"
It is as sad as true that great natures are solitary, and therefore
doubly value the affections of their pets.
Southey wrote a most interesting biography of the cats of Greta Hall,
and on the demise of one wrote to an old friend: "Alas! Grosvenor, this
day poor old Rumpel was found dead, after as long and as happy a life as
cat could wish for--if cats form wishes on that subject. There should be
a court mourning in Cat-land, and if the Dragon wear a black ribbon
round his neck, or a band of crape, a la militaire, round one of the
fore paws, it will be but a becoming mark of respect. As we have not
catacombs here, he is to be decently interred in the orchard and catnip
planted on his grave."
And so closes this catalogue of Southey's "Cattery."
But, hark! my cats are mewing, dogs all calling for me--no--for dinner!
After all, what is the highest civilization but a thin veneer over
natural appetites? What would a club be without its chefs, a social
affair without refreshment, a man without his dinner, a woman without
her tea? Come to think of it, I'm hungry myself!
STARTING A POULTRY FARM.
If every hen should only raise five broods yearly of ten each, and
there were ten hens to start with, at the end of two years they
would number 344,760, after the superfluous roosters were sold; and
then, supposing the extra eggs to have paid for their keeping and
the produce to be worth only a dollar and a half a pair, there would
be a clear profit of $258,520. Allowing for occasional deaths, this
sum might be stated in round numbers at a quarter of a million,
which would be a liberal increase from ten hens. Of course I did not
expect to do as well as this, but merely mention what might be done
with good luck and forcing.
Having always heard, on the best authority, that there was "money in
hens," I invested largely in prize fowls secured at State fairs and
large poultry shows, buying as many kinds as possible to make an
effective and brilliant display in their "runs."
There is a good deal of money in my hens--how to get it back is the
present problem. These hens were all heralded as famous layers; several
did lay in the traveling coops on the journey, great pinky-brown
beauties, just to show what they could do if they chose, then stopped
suddenly. I wrote anxiously to former owners of this vaunted stock to
explain such disappointing behavior. Some guessed the hens were just
moulting, others thought "may be they were broody"; a few had the
frankness to agree with me that it was mighty curious, but hens always
were "sorter contrary critters."
Their appetites remained normal, but, as the little girl said of her pet
bantam, they only lay about doing nothing. And when guests desired some
of my fine fresh eggs boiled for breakfast, I used to go secretly to a
neighbor and buy a dozen, but never gave away the mortifying situation.
Seeing piles of ducks' eggs in a farmer's barn, all packed for market,
and picturing the producers, thirty white Pekins, a snowy,
self-supporting fleet on my reformed lakelet, I bought the whole lot,
and for long weary months they were fed and pampered and coaxed and
reasoned with, shut up, let out, kept on the water, forbidden to go to
it, but not one egg to be seen!
It was considered a rich joke in that locality that a city woman who was
trying to farm, had applied for these ducks just as they had completed
their labors for the season of 1888-'90; they were also extremely
venerable, and the reticent owner rejoiced to be relieved of an
expensive burden at good rates. Knowing nothing of these facts in
natural history, I pondered deeply over the double phenomenon. I said
the hens seemed normal only as to appetite; the ducks proved abnormal in
this respect. They were always coming up to the back door, clamoring
for food--always unappeased. They preferred cake, fresh bread, hot
boiled potatoes, doted on tender bits of meat, but would gobble up
anything and everything, more voracious and less fastidious than the
ordinary hog of commerce. Bags of corn were consumed in a flash,
"shorts" were never long before their eager gaze, they went for every
kind of nourishment provided for the rest of the menagerie. A goat is
supposed to have a champion appetite and digestion, but a duck--at least
one of my ducks--leaves a goat so far behind that he never could regain
his reputation for omniverosity. They were too antique to be eaten
themselves--their longevity entitled them to respect; they could not be
disposed of by the shrewdest market man to the least particular of
boarding-house providers; I could only regard them with amazement and
horror and let them go on eating me out of house and home and
But at last I knew. I asked an honest man from afar, who called to sell
something, why those ducks would not lay a single egg. He looked at them
critically and wrote to me the next day:
"DEAR MADAM: The reason your ducks won't lay is because they're too
old to live and the bigest part of 'em is drakes.
I hear that there are more ducks in the Chinese Empire than in all the
world outside of it. They are kept by the Celestials on every farm, on
the private and public roads, on streets of cities, and on all the
lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and brooks in the country. That is the
secret of their lack of progress. What time have they to advance after
the ducks are fed and cared for? No male inhabitant could ever squeeze
out a leisure half-hour to visit a barber, hence their long queues.
About this time the statement of Mr. Crankin, of North Yeaston, Rhode
Island, that he makes a clear and easy profit of five dollars and twenty
cents per hen each year, and nearly forty-four dollars to every duck,
and might have increased said profit if he had hatched, rather than
sold, seventy-two dozen eggs, struck me as wildly apocryphal. Also that
caring for said hens and ducks was merely an incident of his day's work
on the large farm, he working with his laborers. Heart-sick and
indignant, contrasting his rosy success with my leaden-hued failure, I
decided to give all my ducks away, as they wouldn't, couldn't drown, and
there would be no use in killing them. But no one wanted them! And
everybody smiled quizzically when I proposed the gift.
Just then, as if in direct sarcasm, a friend sent me a paper with an
item marked to the effect that a poor young girl had three ducks' eggs
given her as the basis of a solid fortune, and actually cleared one
hundred and eighteen dollars from those three eggs the first year.
Another woman solemnly asserts in print a profit of $448.69 from one
hundred hens each year.
The census man told me of a woman who had only eighteen hens. They gave
her sixteen hundred and ninety eggs, of which she sold eighteen dollars'
worth, leaving plenty for household use.
And my hens and my ducks! In my despair I drove a long way to consult a
"duck man." He looked like the typical Brother Jonathan, only with a
longer beard, and his face was haggard, unkempt, anxious. He could
scarcely stop to converse, evidently grudged the time, devotes his
entire energies from dawn to twilight to slaving for his eight hundred
ducklings. He also kept an incubator going all the time.
"Do ducks pay you?" I asked.
"Wall, I'm gettin' to be somewhat of a bigotist," he said; "I barely git
"Why Mr. Crankin--" I began.
The name roused his jealous ire, and his voice, a low mumble before, now
burst into a loud roar. "Yes, Crankin makes money, has a sight o'
incubators, makes 'em himself, sells a lot, but some say they don't act
like his do when they git off his place; most on 'em seem possessed, but
Crankin, he can manage 'em and makes money too."
"Do your ducks lay much?"
"Lay! I don't want 'em to lay! Sell 'em all out at nine weeks, 'fore the
pin feathers come; then they're good eatin'--for them as likes 'em. I've
heard of yure old lot. Kill 'em, I say, and start new!"
"I don't care nothing what Crankin says" (here the voice would have
filled a cathedral), "I tell ye; me and Crankin's two different
So I felt; but it would not do to give up. I purchased an expensive
incubator and brooder--needn't have bought a brooder. I put into the
incubator at a time when eggs were scarce and high priced, two hundred
eggs--hens' eggs, ducks' eggs, goose eggs. The temperature must be kept
from 102 deg. to 104 deg.. The lamps blazed up a little on the first day, but
after that we kept the heat exactly right by daily watching and night
vigils. It engrossed most of the time of four able-bodied victims.
Nothing ever was developed. The eggs were probably cooked that first
Now I'm vainly seeking for a purchaser for my I. and B. Terms of sale
very reasonable. Great reduction from original price; shall no doubt be
forced to give them away to banish painful recollections.
I also invested in turkeys, geese, and peacocks, and a pair of guinea
hens to keep hawks away.
For long weary months the geese seemed the only fowls truly at home on
my farm. They did their level best. Satisfied that my hens would neither
lay nor set, I sent to noted poultry fanciers for "settings" of eggs at
three dollars per thirteen, then paid a friendly "hen woman" for
assisting in the mysterious evolution of said eggs into various
interesting little families old enough to be brought to me.
Many and curious were the casualties befalling these young broods.
Chickens are subject to all the infantile diseases of children and many
more of their own, and mine were truly afflicted. Imprimis, most
would not hatch; the finest Brahma eggs contained the commonest
barn-yard fowls. Some stuck to the shell, some were drowned in a saucer
of milk, some perished because no lard had been rubbed on their heads,
others passed away discouraged by too much lard. Several ate rose bugs
with fatal results; others were greedy as to gravel and agonized with
distended crops till released by death. They had more "sand" than was
good for them. They were raised on "Cat Hill," and five were captured by
felines, and when the remnant was brought to me they disappeared day by
day in the most puzzling manner until we caught our mischievous pug,
"Tiny Tim," holding down a beautiful young Leghorn with his cruel paw
and biting a piece out of her neck.
So they left me, one by one, like the illusions of youth, until there
was no "survival of the fittest."
In a ragged old barn opposite, a hen had stolen her nest and brought
out seventeen vigorous chicks. I paid a large bill for the care of what
might have been a splendid collection, and meekly bought that faithful
old hen with her large family. It is now a wonder to me that any
chickens arrive at maturity. Fowls are afflicted with parasitic
wrigglers in their poor little throats. The disease is called "gapes,"
because they try to open their bills for more air until a red worm in
the trachea causes suffocation. This horrid red worm, called
scientifically Scelorostoma syngamus, destroys annually half a
million of chickens.
Dr. Crisp, of England, says it would be of truly national importance to
find the means of preventing its invasion.
The unpleasant results of hens and garden contiguous, Warner has
described. They are incompatible if not antagonistic. One man wisely
advises: "Fence the garden in and let the chickens run, as the man
divided the house with his quarrelsome wife, by taking the inside
himself and giving her the outside, that she might have room according
to her strength."
Looking over the long list of diseases to which fowls are subject is
dispiriting. I am glad they can't read them, or they would have all at
once, as J.K. Jerome, the witty playwright, decided he had every disease
found in a medical dictionary, except housemaid's knee. Look at this
DISEASES OF NERVOUS SYSTEM.--1. Apoplexy. 2. Paralysis. 3. Vertigo.
4. Neuralgia. 5. Debility.
DISEASES OF DIGESTIVE ORGANS.--99.
DISEASES OF LOCOMOTIVE ORGANS.--1. Rheumatism. 2. Cramp. 3. Gout. 4.
Leg weakness. 5. Paralysis of legs. 6. Elephantiasis.
Next, diseases caused by parasites.
I could add a still longer list of unclassified ills: Homesickness,
fits, melancholia, corns, blindness from fighting too much, etc.
Now that I have learned to raise chickens, it is a hard and slow
struggle to get any killed. I say in an off-hand manner, with assumed
nonchalance: "Ellen, I want Tom to kill a rooster at once for tomorrow's
dinner, and I have an order from a friend for four more, so he must
select five to-night." Then begins the trouble. "Oh," pleads Ellen,
"don't kill dear Dick! poor, dear Dick! That is Tom's pet of all; so big
and handsome and knows so much! He will jump up on Tom's shoulder and
eat out of his hand and come when he calls--and those big Brahmas--don't
you know how they were brought up by hand, as you might say, and they
know me and hang around the door for crumbs, and that beauty of a
Wyandock, you couldn't eat him!" When the matter is decided, as the
guillotining is going on, Ellen and I sit listening to the axe thuds and
the death squaks, while she wrings her hands, saying: "O dearie me! What
a world--the dear Lord ha' mercy on us poor creatures! What a thing to
look into, that we must kill the poor innocents to eat them. And they
were so tame and cunning, and would follow me all around!" Then I tell
her of the horrors of the French Revolution to distract her attention
from the present crisis, and alluded to the horrors of cannibalism
recently disclosed in Africa. Then I fall into a queer reverie and
imagine how awful it would be if we should ever be called to submit to a
race of beings as much larger than we are as we are above the fowls. I
almost hear such a monster of a house-wife, fully ninety feet high, say
to a servant, looking sternly and critically at me:
"That fat, white creature must be killed; just eats her old head
off--will soon be too tough"--Ugh! Here Tom comes with five headless
fowls. Wasn't that a weird fancy of mine?
Truly "Me and Crankin's two different critters."
From the following verse, quoted from a recent poultry magazine, I
conclude that I must be classed as a "chump." As it contains the secret
of success in every undertaking, it should be committed to memory by all
"Grit makes the man,
The want of it the chump.
The men who win,
Lay hold, hang on, and hump."
"But stop," says the courteous and prudent reader, "are there any
such things as ghosts?"
"Any ghostesses!" cries Superstition, who settled long since in the
country, near a church yard on a "rising ground," "any ghostesses!
Ay, man, lots on 'em! Bushels on 'em! Sights on 'em! Why, there's
one as walks in our parish, reglar as the clock strikes twelve--and
always the same round, over church-stile, round the corner, through
the gap, into Shorts Spinney, and so along into our close, where he
takes a drink at the pump--for ye see he died in liquor, and then
arter he squenched hisself, wanishes into waper.
"Then there's the ghost of old Beales, as goes o' nights and sows
tares in his neighbor's wheat--I've often seed 'em in seed time.
They do say that Black Ben, the poacher, have riz, and what's more,
walked slap through all the squire's steel traps, without springing
on 'em. And then there's Bet Hawkey as murdered her own infant--only
the poor little babby hadn't learned to walk, and so can't appear
THOMAS HOOD, The Grimsby Ghost.
That dark little room I described as so convenient during a terrific
thunderstorm or the prowling investigations of a burglar, began after a
while to get mysterious and uncanny, and I disliked, nay, dreaded to
enter it after dark. It was so still, so black, so empty, so chilly with
a sort of supernatural chill, so silent, that imagination conjured up
sounds such as I had never heard before. I had been told of an extremely
old woman, a great-great-grandmother, bed-ridden, peevish, and
weak-minded, who had occupied that room for nearly a score of years,
apparently forgotten by fate, and left to drag out a monotonous, weary
existence on not her "mattress grave" (like the poet Heine), but on an
immensely thick feather bed; only a care, a burden, to her relations.
As twilight came on, I always carefully closed that door and shut the
old lady in to sleep by herself. For it seemed that she was still there,
still propped up in an imaginary bed, mumbling incoherently of the
past, or moaning out some want, or calling for some one to bring a
light, as she used to.
Once in a while, they told me, she would regain her strength suddenly
and astonish the family by appearing at the door. When the
grand-daughter was enjoying a Sunday night call from her "intended" it
was rather embarrassing.
I said nothing to my friends about this unpleasant room. But several
were susceptible to the strange influence. One thought she should not
mind so much if the door swung open, and a portiere concealed the
gloom. So a cheerful cretonne soon was hung. Then the fancy came that
the curtain stirred and swayed as if some one or something was groping
feebly with ghostly or ghastly fingers behind it. And one night, when
sitting late and alone over the embers of my open fire, feeling a little
forlorn, I certainly heard moans coming from that direction.
It was not the wind, for, although it was late October and the breezes
were sighing over summer's departure, this sound was entirely different
and distinct. Then (and what a shiver ran down my back!) I remembered
hearing that a woman had been killed by falling down the steep cellar
stairs, and the spot on the left side where she was found unconscious
and bleeding had been pointed out to me. There, I heard it again! Was it
the wraith of the aged dame or the cries of that unfortunate creature?
Hush! Ellen can't have fallen down!
I am really scared; the lamp seems to be burning dim and the last coal
has gone out. Is it some restless spirit, so unhappy that it must moan
out its weary plaint? I ought to be brave and go at once and look boldly
down the cellar stairs and draw aside that waving portiere. Oh, dear!
If I only had some one to go with me and hold a light and--there it
is--the third time. Courage vanished. It might be some dreadful tramp
hiding and trying to drive me up-stairs, so he could get the silver, and
he would gladly murder me for ten cents--
"Tom," I cried. "Tom, come here." But Tom, my six-footer factotum, made
I could stand it no longer--the portiere seemed fairly alive, and I
rushed out to the kitchen where Ellen sat reading the Ledger, deep in
the horrors of The Forsaken Inn. "Ellen, I'm ashamed, but I'm really
frightened. I do believe somebody is in that horrid dark room, or in the
cellar, and where is Tom?
"Bedad, Miss, and you've frightened the heart right out o' me. It might
be a ghost, for there are such things (Heaven help us!), and I've seen
'em in this country and in dear old Ireland, and so has Tom."
"You've seen ghosts?"
"Yes, indeed, Miss, but I've never spoke to any, for you've no right to
speak to a ghost, and if you do you will surely die." Tom now came in
and soon satisfied me that there was no living thing in the darkness, so
I sat down and listened to Ellen's experiences with ghosts.
THE FORMER MRS. WILKES.--"Now this happened in New York city, Miss, in
West 28th Street, and is every word true, for, my dear, I saw it with my
own eyes. I went to bed, about half-past nine it was this night, and I
was lying quietly in bed, looking up to the ceiling; no light on account
of the mosquitoes, and Maud, the little girl I was caring for, a romping
dear of seven or eight, a motherless child, had been tossing about
restless like, and her arm was flung over me. All at once I saw a lady
standing by the side of the bed in her night dress and looking earnestly
at the child beyond me. She then came nearer, took Maud's arm off me,
and gently straightened her in bed, then stroked her face, both
cheeks--fondly, you know--and then stood and looked at the child. I said
not a word, but I wasn't one bit afraid for I thought it was a living
lady. I could tell the color of her eyes and hair and just how she
looked every way. In the morning I described her to Mrs. Wilkes, and
asked, 'Is there any strange lady in the house?' 'No, Ellen. Why?' she
said. Then I said: 'Why, there certainly was a pleasant-looking lady in
my room last night, in her night dress, and she patted Maud as if she
thought a sight of her.'
"'Why,' said my mistress, 'that is surely the former Mrs. Wilkes!'
"She said that the older daughter had seen her several times standing
before her glass, fixing her hair and looking at herself, but if she
spoke to her or tried to speak, her mother would take up something and
shake it at her. And once when we were going up-stairs together Alice
screamed, and said that her mother was at the top of the stairs and blew
her cold breath right down on her. The stepmother started to give her
her slipper, but the father pitied her and would not allow her to be
whipped, and said 'I'll go up to bed with you, Alice.'"
"Did you ever see the lady in white again, Ellen?"
"Never, Ma'am, nor did I ever see any other ghost in this country that I
was sure was a ghost, but--Ireland, dear old Ireland, oh, that's an
ancient land, and they have both ghosts and fairies and banshees too,
and many's the story I've heard over there, and from my own dear
mother's lips, and she would not tell a lie (Heaven rest her soul!), and
I've seen them myself over there, and so has Tom and his brother too,
Miss. Oh, many's the story I could tell!"
"Well, Ellen, let me have one of your own--your very best." And I went
for pencil and pad.
"And are ye going to pin down my story. Well, Miss, if ye take it just
as I say, and then fix it proper to be read, they'll like it, for people
are crazy now to get the true ghost stories of dear old Ireland. O Miss,
when you go over, don't forget my native place. It has a real castle and
a part of it is haunted, and the master doesn't like to live there--only
comes once a year or so, for hunting--and the rabbits there are as thick
as they can be and the river chuck full of fish, but no one can touch
any game, or even take out one fish, or they would be punished."
"Yes, Ellen it's hard, and all wrong, but we are wandering away from
your ghosts, and you know I am going to take notes. So begin."
"Well, Miss, I was a sort of companion or maid to a blind lady in my own
town. I slept in a little room just across the landing from hers, so as
to always be within reach of her. I was just going to bed, when she
called for me to come in and see if there was something in the
room--something alive, she thought, that had been hopping, hopping all
around her bed, and frightened her dreadfully, poor thing, for, you
remember, she was stone blind, Miss, which made it worse. So I hurried
in and I shook the curtains, looked behind the bureau and under the bed,
and tried everywhere for whatever might be hopping around, but could
find nothing and heard not a sound. While I was there all was still.
Then I went into my room again, and left the door open, as I thought
Miss Lacy would feel more comfortable about it, and I was hardly in my
bed when she called again and screamed out with fear, for It was hopping
round the bed. She said I must go down-stairs and bring a candle. So I
had to go down-stairs to the pantry all alone and get the candle. Then
I searched as before, but found nothing--not a thing. Well, my dear, I
went into my room and kept my candle lighted this time. The third time
she called me she was standing on her pillow, shivering with fright, and
begged me to bring the light. It was sad, because she was stone blind.
She told me how It went hopping around the room, with its legs tied
like. And after looking once more and finding nothing, she said I'd have
to sleep in the bed with her and bring a chair near the bed and put the
lighted candle on it. For a long time we kept awake, and watched and
listened, but nothing happened, nothing appeared. We kept awake as long
as we could, but at last our eyes grew very heavy, and the lady seemed
to feel more easy. So I snuffed out the candle. Out It hopped and kept a
jumping on one leg like from one side to the other. We were so much
afraid we covered our faces; we dreaded to see It, so we hid our eyes
under the sheet, and she clung on to me all shaking; she felt worse
because she was blind.
"We fell asleep at daylight, and when I told Monk, the butler, he said
it was a corpse, sure--a corpse whose legs had been tied to keep them
straight and the cords had not been taken off, the feet not being
loosened. Why my own dear mother, that's dead many a year (Heaven bless
her departed spirit!)--she would never tell a word that was not
true--she saw a ghost hopping in that way, tied-like, jumping around a
bed--blue as a blue bag; just after the third day she was buried, and my
mother (the Lord bless her soul!) told me the sons went to her grave and
loosened the cords and she never came back any more. Isn't it awful?
And, bedad, Miss, it's every word true. I can tell you of a young man I
knew who looked into a window at midnight (after he had been playing
cards, Miss, gambling with the other boys) and saw something awful
strange, and was turned by ghosts into a shadow."
This seemed to be a thrilling theme, such as Hawthorne would have been
able to weave into the weirdest of weird tales, and I said, "Go on."
"Well, he used to go playing cards about three miles from his home with
a lot of young men, for his mother wouldn't have cards played in her
house, and she thought it was wicked, and begged him not to play. It's a
habit with the young men of Ireland--don't know as it's the same in
other countries--and they play for a goose or a chicken. They go to some
vacant house to get away from their fathers, they're so against it at
home. Why, my brother-in-law used to go often to such a house on the
side of a country road. Each man would in turn provide the candles to
play by, and as this house was said to be haunted, bedad they had it
all to themselves. Well, this last night that ever they played there--it
was Tom's own brother that told me this--just as they were going to deal
the cards, a tall gentleman came out from a room that had been the
kitchen. He walked right up to them--he was dressed in black cloth
clothes, and wore a high black hat--and came right between two of the
men and told them to deal out the cards. They were too frightened even
to speak, so the stranger took the cards himself and dealt around to
each man. And afterward he played with them; then he looked at every man
in turn and walked out of the room. As soon as he cleared out of the
place, the men all went away as quick as ever they could, and didn't
stop to put out the lights. Each man cleared with himself and never
stopped to look behind. And no one cared to play cards in that house
afterward any more. That was Tom's own brother; and now the poor young
man who was going home at midnight saw a light in one of the houses by
the road, so he turned toward it, thinking to light his pipe. Just
before knocking, he looked in at the window. As soon as he peeped in the
light went out on him, and still he could see crowds of people, as thick
as grass, just as you see 'em at a fair--so thick they hadn't room to
stand--and they kept swaying back and forth, courtesying like. The
kitchen was full, and looking through a door he saw a lot more of fine
ladies and gentlemen; they were laughing and having great fun, running
round the table setting out cups and saucers, just as if they were
having a ball. Just then a big side-board fell over with a great crash,
and all the fine people scampered away, and all was dark. So he turned
away on his heel and was so frightened, his mother said, he could hardly
get home from fear, and he had three whole miles to go. Next day he was
thrashing corn in the barn and something upset him and pitched him head
foremost across the flail. He rose, and three times he was pitched like
that across the flail, so he gave up and went home. His mother asked
him: 'Johnny, what is the matter with you? You do look very bad!' So he
up and told her what had happened to him in the barn, and what he saw
the night before. And he took suddenly sick and had to keep his bed for
nine weeks, and when he got up and was walking around, he wasn't himself
any more, and the sister says to the mother: 'Mother, I'm sure that it
isn't Johnny that's there. It's only his shadow, for when I look at him,
it isn't his features or face, but the face of another thing. He used to
be so pleasant and cheerful, but now he looks like quite another man.
Mother,' said she, 'we haven't Johnny at all.' Soon he got a little
stronger and went to the capital town with corn. Several other men went
also to get their corn ground. They were all coming home together a very
cold night, and the men got up and sat on their sacks of corn. The other
horses walked on all right with them, but Johnny's horses wouldn't move,
not one step while he was on top of the load. Well, my dear, he called
for the rest to come and help him--to see if the horses would go for
them. But they would not move one step, though they whipped them and
shouted at them to start on, for Johnny he was as heavy as lead. And he
had to get down. Soon as he got down, the horses seemed glad and went
off on a gallop after the rest of the train. So they all went off
together, and Johnny wandered away into the bogs. His friends supposed,
of course, he was coming on, thought he was walking beside his load; the
snow was falling down, and perhaps they were a little afraid. He was
left behind. They scoured the country for him next day, and, bedad, they
found him, stiff dead, sitting against a fence. There's where they found
him. They brought him on a door to his mother. Oh, it was a sad thing to
see--to see her cry and hear her mourn!"
"And what more?" I asked.
"That's all. He was waked and buried, and that's what he got for playing
cards! And that's all as true as ever could be true, for it's myself
knew the old mother, and she told me it her very self, and she cried
many tears for her son."
But the sheep shearing came, and the hay season next, and then the
harvest of small corn ... then the sweating of the apples, and the
turning of the cider mill and the stacking of the firewood, and
netting of the wood-cocks, and the springes to be mended in the
garden and by the hedgerows, where the blackbirds hop to the
molehills in the white October mornings and gray birds come to look
for snails at the time when the sun is rising. It is wonderful how
Time runs away when all these things, and a great many others, come
in to load him down the hill, and prevent him from stopping to look
about. And I, for my part, can never conceive how people who live in
towns and cities, where neither lambs nor birds are (except in some
shop windows), nor growing corn, nor meadow grass, nor even so much
as a stick to cut, or a stile to climb and sit down upon--how these
poor folk get through their lives without being utterly weary of
them, and dying from pure indolence, is a thing God only knows, if
his mercy allows him to think of it.
A farm-house looks on the outside like a quiet place. No men are seen
about, front windows are closely shaded, front door locked. Go round to
the back door; nobody seems to be at home. If by chance you do find,
after long bruising of knuckles, that you have roused an inmate, it is
some withered, sad-faced old dame, who is indifferent and hopelessly
deaf, or a bare-footed, stupid urchin, who stares as if you had dropped
from another planet, and a cool "Dunno" is the sole response to all
All seems at a dead standstill. In reality everything and everybody is
going at full speed, transpiring and perspiring to such a degree that,
like a swiftly whirling top, it does not appear to move.
Friends think of me as not living, but simply existing, and marvel that
I can endure such monotony. On the contrary, I live in a constant state
of excitement, hurry, and necessity for immediate action.
The cows were continually getting out of pasture and into the corn; the
pigs, like the chickens, evinced decided preference for the garden. The
horse would break his halter and dart down the street, or, if in
pasture, would leap the barbed-wire fence, at the risk of laming his
legs for life, and dash into a neighbor's yard where children and babies
were sunning on the grass.
Rival butchers and bakers would drive up simultaneously from different
directions and plead for patronage and instant attention.
The vegetables must be gathered and carried to market; every animal was
ravenously hungry at all hours, and didn't hesitate to speak of it. The
magnificent peacock would wander off two miles, choosing the railroad
track for his rambles, and loved to light on Si Evans's barn; then a boy
must be detailed to recover the prize bird, said boy depending on a
reward. His modest-hued consort would seek the deep hedges back of a
Friends would come from a distance to surprise and cheer me in my lonely
retreat just at the time that the butter must positively be made, while
the flowers were choking for water, smothered with weeds, "pus'ley," of
course, pre-eminent. Then a book agent would appear, blind, but doubly
persistent, with a five-dollar illustrated volume recounting minutely
the Johnstown horror. And one of my dogs would be apt at this crisis to
pursue and slay a chicken or poison himself with fly-paper. Every
laboring man for miles around would come with an air of great importance
to confidentially warn me against every other man that could be
employed, with the stereotyped phrase in closing: "Well, whatever you
do" (as if I might be left to do anything) "don't hire John Smallpate or
Bill Storer. I've known him, man and boy, for thirty years; you'll do
well not to trust him!"
Yet these same men who had so villified each other could be seen nightly
lounging in front of the grocery, discussing politics and spitting in
The general animosity of my entire family to each other caused constant
"Sandy," the handsome setter, loathed the pug, and tried to bite his
neck in a fatal way. He also chased the rabbits, trod on young turkeys
so that they were no more, drove the cat out of the barn and up a tree,
barked madly at the cows, enraging those placid animals, and doted on
frightening the horse.
The cat allowed mice to roam merrily through the grain bins, preferring
robins and sparrows, especially young and happy mothers, to a proper
diet; was fond of watching the chickens with wicked, malicious, greedy,
dangerous eyes, and was always ready to make a sly spring for my
The rabbits (pretty innocent little creatures I had thought them, as I
gazed at their representatives of white canton flannel, solidly stuffed,
with such charming eyes of pink beads) girded all my young trees and
killed them before I dreamed of such mischief, nibbled at every tender
sprout, every swelling bud, were so agile that they could not be
captured, and became such a maddening nuisance that I hired a boy to
take them away. I fully understand the recent excitement of the
Australians over the rabbit scourge which threatened to devastate their
The relations were strained between my cows; mother and daughter of a
noble line; they always fed at opposite corners of the field, indulging
in serious fights when they met.
My doves! I am almost ready to say that they were more annoying than
all the rest of my motley collection, picked all seeds out of the ground
faster than they could be put in, so large spaces sowed with rye lay
bare all summer, and ate most of the corn and grain that was intended to
fatten and stimulate my fowls.
Doves are poetical and pleasing, pigeons ditto--in literature, and at a
safe distance from one's own barn. It's a pretty sight at sunset on a
summer's eve to see them poising, wheeling, swirling, round a neighbor's
barn. Their rainbow hues gleam brightly in the sun as they preen their
feathers or gently "coo-oo, I love oo," on the ridge pole. I always
longed to own some, but now the illusion is past. They have been admired
and petted for ages, consecrated as emblems of innocence and peace and
sanctity, regarded as almost sacred from the earliest antiquity. They
have been idealized and praised from Noah to Anacreon, both inclined to
inebriety! But in reality they are a dirty, destructive, greedy lot, and
though fanciers sell them at high prices, they only command twenty-five
cents per pair when sold for the market!
The hens lost half their feathers, often an eye, occasionally a life, in
deadly feuds. My spunky little bantam game cock was always challenging
one of my monster roosters and laying him low, so he had to be sent
John, my eccentric assistant, could abide no possible rival, insulted
every man engaged to help him, occasionally indulging in a free fight
after too frequent visits to the cider barrels of my next neighbor, so
he had to follow the bantam.
Another distress was the constant calls of natives with the most
undesirable things for me to buy; two or three calls daily for a long
time. Boys with eager, ingenuous faces bringing carrier pigeons--pretty
creatures--and I had been told there was money in pigeons. I paid them
extortionate prices on account of extreme ignorance; and the birds, of
course, flew home as soon as released, to be bought again by some
gullible amateur. I had omitted to secure the names and addresses of
these guileless lads.
A sandy-haired, lisping child with chronic catarrh offered me a lot of
"I hear you like pets," she said, "Well, I've got some tame rats, a
father and mother and thirteen little ones, and a mother with four.
They're orful cunning. Hope you'll take 'em."
A big, red-faced, black-bearded, and determined man drove one day into
the yard with an immense wagon, in which was standing a stupid, vicious
old goat, and almost insisted on leaving it at a most ridiculously high
"Heard that the woman that had come to live here wanted most every
animal that Noah got into the ark; was sure she'd like a goat." It was
with considerable difficulty that he could be induced to take it away.
Dogs, dogs, dogs--from mastiff to mongrel, from St. Bernard to toy
poodle--the yard really swarmed with them just before the first of May,
when dog taxes must be paid!
A crow that could talk, but rather objectionably, was offered me.
A pert little boy, surrounded by his equally pert mates, said, after
coming uninvited to look over my assortment: "Got most everything,
hain't ye? Got a monkey?"
Then his satellites all giggled.
"No, not yet. Will not you come in?"
Second giggle, less hearty.
A superannuated clergyman walked three miles and a quarter in a heavy
rain, minus umbrella, to bring me a large and common pitcher, badly
cracked and of no original value; heard I was collecting old china.
Then, after making a long call, drew out a tiny package from his vest
pocket and offered for sale two time-worn cheap rings taken from his
mother's dead hand. They were mere ghosts of rings that had once meant
so much of joy or sorrow, pathetic souvenirs, one would think, to a
loving son. He would also sell me his late father's old sermons for a
This reminded me of Sydney Smith's remark to an old lady who was sorely
afflicted with insomnia: "Have you ever tried one of my sermons?"
Perhaps I have said enough to prove that life in a bucolic solitude may
be something more varied than is generally--don't let that old peddler
come into the house, say we want nothing, and then tell the ladies I'll
be down directly--and, O Ellen, call Tom! Those ducks are devouring
his new cabbage-plants and one of the calves has got over the stone wall
"He's gone to Dog Corner for the cow-doctor."
--Yes, more varied than is generally supposed!
THE PROSE OF NEW ENGLAND FARM LIFE
A life whose parlors have always been closed.
Sunshine is tabooed in the front room of the house. The "damp
dignity" of the best-room has been well described: "Musty smells,
stiffness, angles, absence of sunlight. What is there to talk about
in a room dark as the Domdaniel, except where one crack in a
reluctant shutter reveals a stand of wax flowers under glass, and a
dimly descried hostess who evidently waits only your departure to
extinguish that solitary ray?"
At a recent auction I obtained twenty-one volumes of State Agricultural
Reports for seventeen cents; and what I read in them of the Advantages
of Rural Pursuits, The Dignity of Labor, The Relation of Agriculture to
Longevity and to Nations, and, above all, of the Golden Egg, seem
decidedly florid, unpractical, misleading, and very little permanent
popularity can be gained by such self-interested buncombe from these
The idealized farmer, as he is depicted by these white-handed
rhetoricians who, like John Paul, "would never lay hand to a plow,
unless said plow should actually pursue him to a second story, and then
lay hands on it only to throw it out of the window," and the phlegmatic,
overworked, horny-handed tillers of the soil are no more alike than
Fenimore Cooper's handsome, romantic, noble, and impressive red man of
the forest and the actual Sioux or Apache, as regarded by the cowboy of
It's all work, with no play and no proper pay, for Western competition
now prevents all chance of decent profits. Little can be laid up for old
age, except by the most painful economy and daily scrimping; and how
can the children consent to stay on, starving body and soul? That
explains the 3,318 abandoned farms in Maine at present. And the farmers'
wives! what monotonous, treadmill lives! Constant toil with no wages, no
allowance, no pocket money, no vacations, no pleasure trips to the city
nearest them, little of the pleasures of correspondence; no time to
write, unless a near relative is dead or dying. Some one says that their
only chance for social life is in going to some insane asylum! There
have been four cases of suicide in farmers' families near me within
This does not apply to the fortunate farmer who inherited money and is
shrewd enough to keep and increase it. Nor to the market gardener, who
raises vegetables under glass; nor to the owners of large nurseries.
These do make a good living, and are also able to save something.
In general, it is all one steady rush of work from March to November;
unceasing, uncomplaining activity for the barest support, followed by
three months of hibernation and caring for the cattle. Horace Greeley
said: "If our most energetic farmers would abstract ten hours each per
week from their incessant drudgery and devote them to reading and
reflection in regard to their noble calling, they would live to a better
purpose and bequeath better examples to their children."
It may have been true long years ago that no shares, factory, bank, or
railroad paid better dividends than the plowshare, but it is the veriest
Think of the New England climate in summer. Rufus Choate describes it
eloquently: "Take the climate of New England in summer, hot to-day, cold
to-morrow, mercury at eighty degrees in the shade in the morning, with a
sultry wind southwest. In three hours more a sea turn, wind at east, a
thick fog from the bottom of the ocean, and a fall of forty degrees. Now
so dry as to kill all the beans in New Hampshire, then floods carrying
off all the dams and bridges on the Penobscot and Androscoggin. Snow in
Portsmouth in July, and the next day a man and a yoke of oxen killed by
lightning in Rhode Island. You would think the world was coming to an
end. But we go along. Seed time and harvest never fail. We have the
early and the latter rains; the sixty days of hot corn weather are
pretty sure to be measured out to us; the Indian summer, with its bland
south winds and mitigated sunshine, brings all up, and about the 25th of
November, being Thursday, a grateful people gather about the
Thanksgiving board, with hearts full of gratitude for the blessings that
have been vouchsafed to them."
Poets love to sing of the sympathy of Nature. I think she is decidedly
at odds with the farming interests of the country. At any rate, her
antipathy to me was something intense and personal. That mysterious
stepmother of ours was really riled by my experiments and determined to
circumvent every agricultural ambition.
She detailed a bug for every root, worms to build nests on every tree,
others to devour every leaf, insects to attack every flower, drought or
deluge to ruin the crops, grasshoppers to finish everything that was
Potato bugs swooped down on my fields by tens of thousands, and when
somewhat thinned in ranks by my unceasing war, would be re-enforced from
a neighbor's fields, once actually fording my lakelet to get to my
precious potato patch. The number and variety of devouring pests
connected with each vegetable are alarming. Here are a few connected
closely with the homely cabbage, as given by a noted helminthologist
under the head of "Cut-worms":
"Granulated," "shagreened," "white," "marked," "greasy," "glassy,"
"speckled," "variegated," "wavy," "striped," "harlequin," "imbricated,"
"tarnished." The "snout beetle" is also a deadly foe.
To realize this horror, this worse than Pharaoh plague, you must either
try a season of farming or peruse octavo volumes on Insects injurious to
Vegetation, fully illustrated.
In those you may gain a faint idea of the "skippers," "stingers,"
"soothsayers," "walking sticks or specters," "saw flies and slugs,"
"boring caterpillars," "horn-tailed wood wasps," etc., etc., etc., etc.,
etc.--a never-ending list. The average absolute loss of the farmers of
this country from such pests is fully one million dollars per annum.
Gail Hamilton said of her squashes:
"They appeared above-ground, large-lobed and vigorous. Large and
vigorous appeared the bugs, all gleaming in green and gold, like the
wolf on the fold, and stopped up all the stomata and ate up all the
parenchyma, till my squash-leaves looked as if they had grown for the
sole purpose of illustrating net-veined organizations. A universal bug
does not indicate a special want of skill in any one."
Not liking to crush the bug between thumb and finger as advised, she
tried drowning them. She says: "The moment they touched the water they
all spread unseen wings and flew away. I should not have been much more
surprised to see Halicarnassus soaring over the ridge pole. I had not
the slightest idea they could fly."
Then the aphides! Exhausters of strength--vine fretters--plant
destroyers! One aphis, often the progenitor of over five thousand
million aphides in a single season. This seems understated, but I accept
it as the aphidavit of another noted helminthologist. I might have
imagined Nature had a special grudge against me if I had not recalled
Emerson's experience. He says: "With brow bent, with firm intent, I go
musing in the garden walk. I stoop to pick up a weed that is choking the
corn, find there were two; close behind is a third, and I reach out my
arm to a fourth; behind that there are four thousand and one!
"Rose bugs and wasps appear best when flying. I admired them most when
flying away from my garden."
Horace Greeley said that "No man who harbors caterpillars has any moral
right to apples." But one sees whole orchards destroyed in this way for
lack of time to attack such a big job. Farmers have been unjustly
attacked by city critics who do not understand the situation. There was
much fine writing last year in regard to the sin and shame of cutting
down the pretty, wild growth of shrubs, vines, and flowers along the
wayside, so picturesque to the summer tourist. The tangle of wild grape,
clematis, and woodbine is certainly pretty, but underneath is sure to be
found a luxuriant growth of thistle, wild carrot, silk weed, mullein,
chickweed, tansy, and plantain, which, if allowed to seed and
disseminate themselves, would soon ruin the best farms. There is a
deadly foe, an army of foes, hiding under these luxuriant festoons and
masses of cheerful flowers.
Isn't it strange and sad and pitiful, that it is the summer guest who
alone enjoys the delights of summering in the country? There is no time
for rest, for recreation, for flowers, for outdoor pleasures, for the
average farmer and his family. You seldom see any bright faces at the
windows, which are seldom opened--only a glimpse here and there of a
sad, haggard creature, peering out for curosity. Strange would it be to
hear peals of merry laughter; stranger still to see a family enjoying a
meal on the piazza or a game on the grass. As for flowers, they are
valued no more than weeds; the names of the most common are unknown. I
asked in vain a dozen people last summer, what that flower was called,
pointing to the ubiquitous Joe Rye weed or pink motherwort. At last I
asked one man, who affected to know everything--
"Oh, yes, I know it."
"What is it?" I persisted.
"Well, I know it just as well, but can't just now get the name out." A
pause, then, with great superiority: "I'd rather see a potato field in
full bloom, than all the flowers in the world."
Perhaps some of Tolstoi's disciples may yet solve the problem of New
England's abandoned farms. He believes that every able-bodied man should
labor with his own hands and in "the sweat of his brow" to produce his
own living direct from the soil. He dignifies agriculture above all
other means of earning a living, and would have artificial employments
given up. "Back to the land," he cries; and back he really goes, daily
working with the peasants. But 'tis a solemn, almost tragical
experience, not much better than the fate of the Siberian exile. Rise at
dawn; work till dark; eat--go to bed too tired to read a paper;--and no
money in it.
Let these once prosperous farms be given up to Swedish colonies, hard
working and industrious, who can do better here than in their own
country and have plenty of social life among themselves, or let wealthy
men purchase half a dozen of these places to make a park, or two score
for a hunting ground--or let unattached women of middle age occupy them
and support themselves by raising poultry. Men are making handsome
incomes from this business--women can do the same. The language of the
poultry magazines, by the way, is equally sentimental and efflorescent
with that of the speeches at agricultural fairs, sufficiently so to
sicken one who has once accepted it as reliable, as for instance: "The
individual must be very abnormal in his tastes if they can not be
catered to by our feathered tribe." "To their owner they are a thing of
beauty and a joy forever. Their ways are interesting, their language
fascinating, and their lives from the egg to the mature fowl replete
with constant surprises."
[Footnote 1: This clause is true.]
"To simply watch them as they pass from stage to stage of development
fills the mind of every sane person with pleasure." One poultry crank
insists that each hen must be so carefully studied that she can be
understood and managed as an individual, and speaks of his hens having
at times an "anxious nervous expression!"
"Yes, it is where the hens sing all the day long in the barn-yard that
throws off the stiff ways of our modern civilization and makes us feel
that we are home and can rest and play and grow young once more. How
many men and women have regained lost health and spirits in keeping
hens, in the excitement of finding and gathering eggs!"
"It is not the natural laying season when snows lie deep on field and
hill, when the frost tingles in sparkling beads from every twig, when
the clear streams bear up groups of merry skaters," etc.
After my pathetic experience with chickens, who after a few days of
downy content grew ill, and gasped until they gave up the ghost;
ducklings, who progressed finely for several weeks, then turned over on
their backs and flopped helplessly unto the end; or, surviving that
critical period, were found in the drinking trough, "drowned, dead,
because they couldn't keep their heads above water"; turkeys who
flourished to a certain age, then grew feeble and phantom-like and faded
out of life, I weary of gallinaceous rhodomontade, and crave "pointers"
for my actual needs.
I still read "Crankin's" circulars with a thrill of enthusiasm because
his facts are so cheering. For instance, from his latest: "We have some
six thousand ducklings out now, confined in yards with wire netting
eighteen inches high. The first lot went to market May 10th and netted
forty cents per pound. These ducklings were ten weeks old and dressed on
an average eleven pounds per pair. One pair dressed fourteen pounds."
Isn't that better than selling milk at two and a half cents per quart?
And no money can be made on vegetables unless they are raised under
glass in advance of the season. I know, for did I not begin with "pie
plant," with which every market was glutted, at one cent per pound, and
try the entire list, with disgustingly low prices, exposed to depressing
comparison and criticism? When endeavoring to sell, one of the visiting
butchers, in reply to my petition that he would buy some of my
vegetables, said: "Well now, Marm, you see just how it is; I've got
more'n I can sell now, and women keep offering more all the way along. I
tell 'em I can't buy 'em, but I'll haul 'em off for ye if ye want to
get rid of 'em!" So much for market gardening at a distance from city
But ducks! Sydney Smith, at the close of his life, said he "had but one
illusion left, and that was the Archbishop of Canterbury." I still
believe in Crankin and duck raising. Let me see: "One pair dressed
fourteen pounds, netted forty cents per pound." I'll order one of
Crankin's "Monarch" incubators and begin a poultry farm anew.
"Dido et dux," and so do Boston epicures. I'll sell at private sales,
not for hotels! I used to imagine myself supplying one of the large
hotels and saw on the menu:
"Tame duck and apple sauce (from the famous 'Breezy Meadows' farm)." But
I inquired of one of the proprietors what he would give, and "fifteen
cents per pound for poultry dressed and delivered" gave me a combined
attack of chills and hysterics.
Think of my chickens, from those prize hens (three dollars each)--my
chickens, fed on eggs hard boiled, milk, Indian meal, cracked corn,
sun-flower seed, oats, buckwheat, the best of bread, selling at fifteen
cents per pound, and I to pay express charges! Is there, is there any
"money in hens?"
To show how a child would revel in a little rational enjoyment on a
farm, read this dear little poem of James Whitcomb Riley's:
AT AUNTY'S HOUSE.
One time when we's at aunty's house--
'Way in the country--where
They's ist but woods and pigs and cows,
An' all's outdoors and air!
An orchurd swing; an' churry trees,
An' churries in 'em! Yes, an' these
Here red-head birds steal all they please
An' tech 'em if you dare!
W'y wunst, one time when we wuz there,
We et out on the porch!
Wite where the cellar door wuz shut
The table wuz; an' I
Let aunty set by me an' cut
My wittles up--an' pie.
Tuz awful funny! I could see
The red heads in the churry tree;
An' bee-hives, where you got to be
So keerful going by;
An' comp'ny there an' all! An' we--
We et out on the porch!
An'--I ist et p'surves an' things
'At ma don't 'low me to--
An' chickun gizzurds (don't like wings
Like parunts does, do you?)
An' all the time the wind blowed there
An' I could feel it in my hair,
An' ist smell clover ever'where!
An' a old red head flew
Purt' nigh wite over my high chair,
When we et out on the porch!
THE PASSING OF THE PEACOCKS.
I would rather look at a peacock than eat him. The feathers of an
angel and the voice of a devil.
The story of this farm would not be complete without a brief rehearsal
of my experiences, exciting, varied, and tragic, resulting from the
purchase of a magnificent pair of peacocks.
My honest intention on leasing my forty-dollars-a-year paradise was
simply to occupy the quaint old house for a season or two as a relief
from the usual summer wanderings. I would plant nothing but a few hardy
flowers of the old-fashioned kind--an economical and prolonged picnic.
In this way I could easily save in three years sufficient funds to make
a grand tour du monde.
That was my plan!
For some weeks I carried out this resolution, until an event occurred,
which changed the entire current of thought, and transformed a quiet,
rural retreat into a scene of frantic activity and gigantic undertaking.
In the early summer I attended a poultry show at Rooster, Mass., and, in
a moment of impulsive enthusiasm, was so foolish as to pause and admire
and long for a prize peacock, until I was fairly and hopelessly
hypnotized by its brilliant plumage.
I reasoned: Anybody can keep hens, "me and Crankin" can raise ducks,
geese thrive naturally with me, but a peacock is a rare and glorious
possession. The proud scenes he is associated with in mythology,
history, and art rushed through my mind with whirlwind rapidity as I
stood debating the question. The favorite bird of Juno--she called the
metallic spots on its tail the eyes of Argus--imported by Solomon to
Palestine, essentially regal. Kings have used peacocks as their crests,
have worn crowns of their feathers. Queens and princesses have flirted
gorgeous peacock fans; the pavan, a favorite dance in the days of Louis
le Grand, imitated its stately step. In the days of chivalry the most
solemn oath was taken on the peacock's body, roasted whole and adorned
with its gay feathers, as Shallow swore "by cock and pie." I saw the
fairest of all the fair dames at a grand mediaeval banquet proudly
bearing the bird to the table. The woman who hesitates is lost. I bought
the pair, and ordered them boxed for "Breezy Meadows."
On the arrival of the royal pair at my 'umble home, all its surroundings
began to lose the charm of rustic simplicity, and appear shabby,
inappropriate, and unendurable. It became evident that the entire place
must be raised, and at once, to the level of those peacocks.
The house and barn were painted (colonial yellow) without a moment's
delay. An ornamental piazza was added, all the paths were broadened and
graveled, and even terraces were dreamed of, as I recalled the terraces
where Lord Beaconsfield's peacocks used to sun themselves and display
their beauties--Queen Victoria now has a screen made of their feathers.
My expensive pets felt their degradation in spite of my best efforts and
determined to sever their connection with such a plebeian place.
Beauty (I ought to have called him Absalom or Alcibiades), as soon as
let out of his traveling box, displayed to an admiring crowd a tail so
long it might be called a "serial," gave one contemptuous glance at the
premises, and departed so rapidly, by running and occasional flights,
that three men and a boy were unable to catch up with him for several
hours. Belle was not allowed her liberty, as we saw more trouble ahead.
A large yard, inclosed top and sides with wire netting, at last
restrained their roving ambition. But they were not happy. Peacocks
disdain a "roost" and seek the top of some tall tree; they are also
rovers by nature and hate confinement. They pined and failed, and seemed
slowly dying; so I had to let them out. Total cost of peacock hunts by
the boys of the village, $11.33. I found that Beauty was happy only when
admiring himself, or deep in mischief. His chief delight was to mount
the stone wall, and utter his raucous note, again and again, as a
carriage passed, often scaring the horses into dangerous antics, and
causing severe, if not profane criticism. Or he would steal slyly into a
neighbor's barn and kill half a dozen chickens at a time. He was awake
every morning by four o'clock, and would announce the glories of the
coming dawn by a series of ear-splitting notes, disturbing not only all
my guests, but the various families within range, until complaints and
petitions were sent in. He became a nuisance--but how could he be
And he was so gloriously handsome! Visitors from town would come
expressly to see him. School children would troop into my yard on
Saturday afternoons, "to see the peacock spread his tail," which he
often capriciously refused to do. As soon as they departed, somewhat
disappointed in "my great moral show," Beauty would go to a large window
on the ground floor of the barn and parade up and down, displaying his
beauties for his own gratification. At last he fancied he saw a rival in
this brilliant, irridescent reflection and pecked fiercely at the glass,
breaking several panes.
Utterly selfish, he would keep all dainty bits for himself, leaving the
scraps for his devoted mate, who would wait meekly to eat what he chose
to leave. She made up for this wifely self-abnegation by frequenting the
hen houses. She would watch patiently by the side of a hen on her nest,
and as soon as an egg was deposited, would remove it for her luncheon.
She liked raw eggs, and six were her usual limit.
There is a deal of something closely akin to human nature in barn-yard
fowls. It was irresistibly ludicrous to see the peacock strutting about
in the sunshine, his tail expanded in fullest glory, making a curious
rattle of triumph as he paraded, while my large white Holland turkey
gobbler, who had been molting severely and was almost denuded as to tail
feathers, would attempt to emulate his display, and would follow him
closely, his wattles swelling and reddening with fancied success,
making all this fuss about what had been a fine array, but now was
reduced to five scrubby, ragged, very dirty remnants of feathers. He
fancied himself equally fine, and was therefore equally happy.
Next came the molting period.
Pliny said long ago of the peacock: "When he hath lost his taile, he
hath no delight to come abroad," but I knew nothing of this peculiarity,
supposing that a peacock's tail, once grown, was a permanent ornament.
On the contrary, if a peacock should live one hundred and twenty years
(and his longevity is something phenomenal) he would have one hundred
and seventeen new and interesting tails--enough to start a circulating
library. Yes, Beauty's pride and mine had a sad fall as one by one the
long plumes were dropped in road and field and garden. He should have
been caught and confined, and the feathers, all loose at once, should
have been pulled out at one big pull and saved intact for fans and dust
brushes, and adornment of mirrors and fire-places. Soon every one was
gone, and the mortified creature now hid away in the corn, and behind
shrubbery, disappearing entirely from view, save as hunger necessitated
a brief emerging.
This tailless absentee was not what I had bought as the champion prize
winner. And Belle, after laying four eggs, refused to set. But I put
them under a turkey, and, to console myself and re-enforce my position
as an owner of peacocks, I began to study peacock lore and literature. I
read once more of the throne of the greatest of all the moguls at Delhi,
"The under part of the canopy is embroidered with pearls and diamonds,
with a fringe of pearls round about. On the top of the canopy, which is
made like an arch with four panes, stands a peacock with his tail
spread, consisting all of sapphires and other proper-colored stones;
the body is of beaten gold enchased with several jewels, and a great
ruby upon his breast, at which hangs a pearl that weighs fifty carats.
On each side of the peacock stand two nosegays as high as the bird,
consisting of several sorts of flowers, all of beaten gold enameled.
When the king seats himself upon the throne, there is a transparent
jewel with a diamond appendant, of eighty or ninety carats, encompassed
with rubies and emeralds, so hung that it is always in his eye. The
twelve pillars also that support the canopy are set with rows of fair
pearls, round, and of an excellent water, that weigh from six to ten
carats apiece. At the distance of four feet upon each side of the throne
are placed two parasols or umbrellas, the handles whereof are about
eight feet high, covered with diamonds; the parasols themselves are of
crimson velvet, embroidered and stringed with pearls." This is the
famous throne which Tamerlane began and Shah Jahan finished, which is
really reported to have cost a hundred and sixty million five hundred
thousand livres (thirty-two million one hundred thousand dollars).
I also gloated over the description of that famous London dining-room,
known to the art world as the "Peacock Room," designed by Whistler.
Panels to the right and left represent peacocks with their tails spread
fan-wise, advancing in perspective toward the spectator, one behind the
other, the peacocks in gold and the ground in blue.
I could not go so extensively into interior decoration, and my mania for
making the outside of the house and the grounds highly decorative had
received a severe lesson in the verdict, overheard by me, as I stood in
the garden, made by a gawky country couple who were out for a Sunday
As Warner once said to me, "young love in the country is a very solemn
thing," and this shy, serious pair slowed up as they passed, to see my
place. The piazza was gay with hanging baskets, vines, strings of beads
and bells, lanterns of all hues; there were tables, little and big, and
lounging chairs and a hammock and two canaries. The brightest geraniums
blossomed in small beds through the grass, and several long flower beds
were one brilliant mass of bloom, while giant sun-flowers reared their
golden heads the entire length of the farm.
It was gay, but I had hoped to please Beauty.
"What is that?" said the girl, straining her head out of the carriage.
"Don't know," said the youth, "guess it's a store."
The girl scrutinized the scene as a whole, and said decisively:
"No, 'taint, Bill--it's a saloon!"
That was a cruel blow! I forgot my flowers, walked in slowly and sadly
and carried in two lanterns to store in the shed chamber. I also
resolved to have no more flower beds in front of the house, star shaped
or diamond--they must all be sodded over.
That opinion of my earnest efforts to effect a renaissance at
Gooseville--to show how a happy farm home should look to the
passer-by--in short, my struggle to "live up to" the peacocks revealed,
as does a lightning flash on a dark night, much that I had not
perceived. I had made as great a mistake as the farmer who abjures
flowers and despises "fixin' up."
The pendulum of emotion swung as far back, and I almost disliked the
innocent cause of my decorative folly. I began to look over my accounts,
to study my check books, to do some big sums in addition, and it made me
even more depressed. Result of these mental exercises as follows: Rent,
$40 per year; incidental expenses to date, $5,713.85. Was there any good
in this silly investment of mine? Well, if it came to the very worst, I
could kill the couple and have a rare dish. Yet Horace did not think its
flesh equal to an ordinary chicken. He wrote:
I shall ne'er prevail
To make our men of taste a pullet choose,
And the gay peacock with its train refuse.
For the rare bird at mighty price is sold,
And lo! What wonders from its tail unfold!
But can these whims a higher gusto raise
Unless you eat the plumage that you praise?
Or do its glories when 'tis boiled remain?
No; 'tis the unequaled beauty of its train,
Deludes your eye and charms you to the feast,
For hens and peacocks are alike in taste.
Then peacocks have been made useful in a medicinal way. The doctors once
prescribed peacock broth for pleurisy, peacocks' tongues for epilepsy,
peacocks' fat for colic, peacocks' galls for weak eyes, peahens' eggs
It is always darkest just before dawn, and only a week from that
humiliating Sunday episode I was called by my gardener to look at the
dearest little brown something that was darting about in the poultry
yard. It was a baby peacock, only one day old. He got out of the nest in
some way, and preferred to take care of himself. How independent, how
captivating he was! As not one other egg had hatched, he was lamentably,
desperately alone, with dangers on every side, "homeless and
orphanless." Something on that Sabbath morning recalled Melchizedec, the
priest without father or mother, of royal descent, and of great length
of days. Earnestly hoping for longevity for this feathered mite of
princely birth, I called him "Melchizedec."
I caught him and was in his toils. He was a tiny tyrant; I was but a
slave, an attendant, a nurse, a night-watcher. Completely under his
No more work, no more leisure, no more music or tennis; my life career,
my sphere, was definitely settled. I was Kizzie's attendant--nothing
more. People have cared for rather odd pets, as the leeches tamed and
trained by Lord Erskine; others have been deeply interested in toads,
crickets, mice, lizards, alligators, tortoises, and monkeys. Wolsey was
on familiar terms with a venerable carp; Clive owned a pet tortoise; Sir
John Lubbock contrived to win the affections of a Syrian wasp; Charles
Dudley Warner devoted an entire article in the Atlantic Monthly to the
praises of his cat Calvin; but did you ever hear of a peacock as a
As it is the correct thing now to lie down all of a summer afternoon,
hidden by trees, and closely watch every movement of a pair of little
birds, or spend hours by a frog pond studying the sluggish life there,
and as mothers are urged by scientific students to record daily the
development of their infants in each apparently unimportant matter, I
think I may be excused for a brief sketch of my charge, for no mother
ever had a child so precocious, so wise, so willful, so affectionate, so
persistent, as Kizzie at the same age. Before he was three days old,
he would follow me like a dog up and down stairs and all over the house,
walk behind me as I strolled about the grounds, and when tired, he would
cry and "peep, weep" for me to sit down. Then he would beg to be taken
on my lap, thence he would proceed to my arm, then my neck, where he
would peck and scream and flutter, determined to nestle there for a nap.
My solicitude increased as he lived on, and I hoped to "raise" him. He
literally demanded every moment of my time, my entire attention during
the day, and, alas! at night also, until I seemed to be living a tragic
If put down on carpet or matting, he at once began to pick up everything
he could spy on the floor, and never before did I realize how much could
be found there. I had a dressmaker in the house, and Kizzie was always
going for a deadly danger--here a pin, there a needle, just a step away
a tack or a bit of thread or a bead of jet.
Outdoors it was even worse. With two bird dogs ready for anything but
birds, the pug that had already devoured all that had come to me of my
expensive importations, a neighbor's cat often stealing over to hunt for
her dinner, a crisis seemed imminent every minute. Even his own father
would destroy him if they met, as the peacock allows no possible rival.
And Kizzie kept so close to my heels that I hardly dared step. If my
days were distracting, the nights were inexpressibly awful. I supposed
he would be glad to go to sleep in a natural way after a busy day. No,
indeed! He would not stay in box or basket, or anywhere but cradled
close in my neck. There he wished to remain, twittering happily, giving
now and then a sweet, little, tremulous trill, indicative of content,
warmth, and drowsiness; if I dared to move ever so little, showing by a
sharp scratch from his claws that he preferred absolute quiet. One
night, when all worn out, I rose and put him in a hat box and covered it
closely, but his piercing cries of distress and anger prevented the
briefest nap, reminding me of the old man who said, "Yes, it's pretty
dangerous livin' anywheres." I was so afraid of hurting him that I
scarcely dared move. Each night we had a prolonged battle, but he never
gave in for one instant until he could roost on my outstretched finger
or just under my chin. Then he would settle down, the conflict over, he
as usual the victor, and the sweet little lullaby would begin.
One night I rose hastily to close the windows in a sudden shower. Kizzie
wakened promptly, and actually followed me out of the room and
down-stairs. Alas! it was not far from his breakfast hour, for he
preferred his first meal at four o'clock A.M. You see how he influenced
me to rise early and take plenty of exercise.
I once heard of a wealthy Frenchman, nervous and dyspeptic, who was
ordered by his eccentric physician to buy a Barbary ostrich and imitate
him as well as care for him. And he was quickly cured!
On the other hand, it is said that animals and birds grow to be like
those who train and pet them. Christopher North (John Wilson) used to
carry a sparrow in his coat pocket. And his friends averred that the
bird grew so large and impressive that it seemed to be changing into an
But Kizzie was the stronger influence. I really grew afraid of him, as
he liked to watch my eyes, and once picked at them, as he always picked
at any shining bit.
What respect I now feel for a sober, steady-going, successful old hen,
who raises brood after brood of downy darlings without mishaps! Her
instinct is an inspiration. Kizzie liked to perch on my finger and catch
flies for his dinner. How solemn, wise, and bewitching he did look as he
snapped at and swallowed fifteen flies, uttering all the time a
satisfied little note, quite distinct from his musical slumber song!
How he enjoyed lying on one side, stretched out at full length, to bask
in the sun, a miniature copy of his magnificent father! Very careful was
he of his personal appearance, pruning and preening his pretty feathers
many times each day, paying special attention to his tail--not more than
an inch long--but what a prophecy of the future! As mothers care most
for the most troublesome child, so I grew daily more fond of cute little
Kizzie, more anxious that he should live.
I could talk all day of his funny ways, of his fondness for me, of his
daily increasing intelligence, of his hair-breadth escapes, etc.
The old story--the dear gazelle experience came all too soon.
Completely worn out with my constant vigils, I intrusted him for one
night to a friend who assured me that she was a most quiet sleeper, and
that he could rest safely on her fingers. I was too tired to say no.
She came to me at daybreak, with poor Kizzie dead in her hands. He died
like Desdemona, smothered with pillows. All I can do in his honor has
been done by this inadequate recital of his charms and his capacity.
After a few days of sincere grief I reflected philosophically that if he
had not passed away I must have gone soon, and naturally felt it
preferable that I should be the survivor.
A skillful taxidermist has preserved as much of Kizzie as possible for
me, and he now adorns the parlor mantel, a weak, mute reminder of three
weeks of anxiety.
And his parents--
The peahen died suddenly and mysteriously. There was no apparent reason
for her demise, but the autopsy, which revealed a large and irregular
fragment of window glass lodged in her gizzard, proved that she was a
victim of Beauty's vanity. A friend who was present said, as he tenderly
held the glass between thumb and finger: "It is now easy to see through
the cause of her death; under the circumstances, it would be idle to
speak of it as pane-less!" Beauty had never seemed very devoted to her,
but he mourned her long and sincerely. Now that she had gone he
appreciated her meek adoration, her altruistic devotion.
Another touch like human nature.
And when, after a decent period of mourning, another spouse was secured
for him he refused to notice her and wandered solitary and sad to a
neighbor's fields. The new madam was not allowed to share the high roost
on the elm. She was obliged to seek a less elevated and airy dormitory.
His voice, always distressingly harsh, was now so awful that it was
fascinating. The notes seemed cracked by grief or illness. At last,
growing feebler, he succumbed to some wasting malady and no longer
strutted about in brilliant pre-eminence or came to the piazza calling
imperiously for dainties, but rested for hours in some quiet corner. The
physician who was called in prescribed for his liver. He showed
symptoms of poisoning, and I began to fear that in his visit to a
neighbor's potato fields he had indulged in Paris green, possibly with
There was something heroic in his way of dying. No moans, no cries; just
a dignified endurance. From the western window of the shed chamber where
he lay he could see the multitude of fowls below, in the yards where he
had so lately reigned supreme. Occasionally, with a heroic effort, he
would get on his legs and gaze wistfully on the lively crowd so
unmindful of his wretchedness, then sink back exhausted, reminding me of
some grand old monarch, statesman, or warrior looking for the last time
on the scenes of his former triumphs. I should have named him Socrates.
At last he was carried to a cool resting place in the deep grass,
covered with pink mosquito netting, and one kind friend after another
fanned him and watched over his last moments. After he was really dead,
and Tom with tears rolling down his face carried him tenderly away, I
woke from my ambitious dream and felt verily guilty of aviscide.
But for my vainglorious ambition Beauty would doubtless be alive and
resplendent; his consort, modest hued and devoted, at his side, and my
bank account would have a better showing.
There is a motto as follows, "Let him keep peacock to himself," derived
in this way:
When George III had partly recovered from one of his attacks, his
ministers got him to read the king's speech, but he ended every sentence
with the word "peacock."
The minister who drilled him said that "peacock" was an excellent word
for ending a sentence, only kings should not let subjects hear it, but
should whisper it softly.
The result was a perfect success; the pause at the close of each
sentence had such a fine elocutionary effect.
In future, when longing to indulge in some new display, yield to another
temptation, let me whisper "peacock" and be saved.
Then you seriously suppose, doctor, that gardening is good for the
I do. For kings, lords, and commons. Grow your own cabbages. Sow
your own turnips, and if you wish for a gray head, cultivate
Conceit is not encouraged in the country. Your level is decided for you,
and the public opinion is soon reported as something you should know.
As a witty spinster once remarked: "It's no use to fib about your age in
your native village. Some old woman always had a calf born the same
night you were!"
Jake Corey was refreshingly frank. He would give me a quizzical look,
shift his quid, and begin:
"Spent a sight o' money on hens, hain't ye? Wall, by next year I guess
you'll find out whether ye want to quit foolin' with hens or not. Now,
my hens doan't git no condition powder, nor sun-flower seeds, nor no
such nonsense, and I ain't got no bone cutter nor fancy fountains for
'em; but I let 'em scratch for themselves and have their liberty, and
mine look full better'n your'n. I'll give ye one p'int. You could save a
lot by engagin' an old hoss that's got to be killed. I'm allers looking
round in the fall of the year for some old critter just ready to drop.
Wait till cold weather, and then, when he's killed, hang half of him up
in the hen house and see how they'll pick at it. It's the best feed
going for hens, and makes 'em lay right along. Doan't cost nothin'
I had been asked to give a lecture in a neighboring town, and, to change
the subject, inquired if he thought many would attend. Jake looked
rather blank, took off his cap, scratched his head, and then said:
"I dunno. Ef you was a Beecher or a Gough you could fill the hall, or
may be ef your more known like, and would talk to 'em free, you might
git 'em, or if you's going to sing or dress up to make 'em larf; but as
'tis, I dunno." After the effort was over I tried to sound him as to my
success. He was unusually reticent, and would only say: "Wall, the only
man I heard speak on't, said 'twas different from anything he ever
heard." This reminded me of a capital story told me by an old family
doctor many years ago. It was that sort of anecdote now out of fashion
with raconteurs--a long preamble, many details, a gradual increase of
interest, and a vivid climax, and when told by a sick bed would
sometimes weary the patient. A man not especially well known had given a
lecture in a New Hampshire town without rousing much enthusiasm in his
audience, and as he rode away on the top of the stage coach next morning
he tried to get some sort of opinion from Jim Barker, the driver. After
pumping in vain for a compliment the gentleman inquired: "Did you hear
nothing about my lecture from any of the people? I should like very much
to get some idea of how it was received."
"Wall, no, stranger, I can't say as I heerd much. I guess the folks was
purty well pleased. No one seemed to be ag'in it but Square Lothrop."
"And may I ask what he said?"
"Wall, I wouldn't mind it, if I'se you, what he said. He says just what
he thinks--right out with it, no matter who's hurt--and he usually gets
the gist on't. But I wouldn't mind what he said, the public was purty
generally pleased." And the long whip lash cracks and Jim shouts, "Get
"Yes," persisted the tortured man; "but I do want very much to know
what Squire Lothrop's opinion was."
"Now, stranger, I wouldn't think any more about the Square. He's got
good common sense and allers hits the nail on the head, but as I said,
you pleased 'em fust rate."
"Yes, but I must know what Squire Lothrop did say."
"Wall, if you will have it, he did say (and he's apt to get the gist
on't) he did say that he thought 'twas awful shaller!"
Many epigrammatic sayings come back to me, and one is too good to be
omitted, An old woman was fiercely criticising a neighbor and ended in
this way: "Folks that pretend to be somebody, and don't act like nobody,
Another woman reminded me of Mrs. Partington. She told blood-curdling
tales of the positive reappearance of departed spirits, and when I said,
"Do you really believe all this?" she replied, "Indeed, I do, and yet
I'm not an imaginary woman!" Her dog was provoked into a conflict with
my setters, and she exclaimed: "Why, I never saw him so completely
Then the dear old lady who said she was a free thinker and wasn't
ashamed of it; guessed she knew as much as the minister 'bout this world
or the next; liked nothing better than to set down Sunday afternoons
after she'd fed her hens and read Ingersoll. "What books of his have
you?" I asked.
She handed me a small paper-bound volume which did not look like any of
"Bob's" productions. It was a Guide Book through Picturesque Vermont by
And I must not omit the queer sayings of a simple-hearted hired man on a
Oh, for a photo of him as I saw him one cold, rainy morning tending
Jason Kibby's dozen cows. He had on a rubber coat and cap, but his
trouser legs were rolled above the knee and he was barefoot, "Hannibal,"
I shouted, "you'll take cold with your feet in that wet grass!"
"Gueth not, Marm," he lisped back cheerily. "I never cared for shooth
He was always shouting across the way to inquire if "thith wath hot
enough or cold enough to thute me?" As if I had expressed a strong
desire for phenomenal extremes of temperature. One morning he suddenly
departed. I met him trudging along with three hats jammed on to his head
and a rubber coat under his arm, for 'twas a fine day.
"Why, Hanny!" I exclaimed, "where are you going in such haste?"
"Mithter Kibby told me to go to Halifax, and--I'm going!"
Next, the man who was anxious to go into partnership with me. He would
work my farm at halves, or I could buy his farm, cranberry bog, and
woodland, and he would live right on there and run that place at halves;
urged me to buy twelve or fourteen cows cheap in the fall and start a
milk route, he to be the active partner; then he had a chance to buy a
lot of "essences" cheap, and if I'd purchase a peddling-wagon, he'd put
in his old horse, and we'd go halves on that business, or I could buy up
a lot of calves or young pigs and he'd feed 'em and we'd go halves.
But I will not take you through my entire picture-gallery, as I have two
good stories to tell you before saying good-by.
Depressing remarks have reached me about my "lakelet," which at first
was ridiculed by every one. The struggle of evolution from the "spring
hole" was severe and protracted. Experts were summoned, their estimates
of cost ranging from four hundred to one thousand dollars, and no one
thought it worth while to touch it. It was discouraging. Venerable and
enormous turtles hid in its muddy depths and snapped at the legs of the
ducks as they dived, adding a limp to the waddle; frogs croaked there
dismally; mosquitoes made it a camping ground and head center; big black
water snakes often came to drink and lingered by the edge; the ugly horn
pout was the only fish that could live there. Depressing, in contrast
with my rosy dreams! But now the little lake is a charming reality, and
the boat is built and launched. Turtles, pout, lily roots as big as
small trees, and two hundred loads of "alluvial deposit" are no longer
"in it," while carp are promised me by my friend Commissioner Blackford.
The "Tomtoolan" is not a large body of water--one hundred and fifty
feet long, seventy-five feet wide--but it is a delight to me and has
been grossly traduced by ignorant or envious outsiders. The day after
the "Katy-Did" was christened (a flat-bottomed boat, painted prettily
with blue and gold) I invited a lady to try it with me. Flags were
fluttering from stem and stern. We took a gayly colored horn to toot as
we went, and two dippers to bail, if necessary. It was not exactly
"Youth at the prow and Pleasure at the helm," but we were very jolly and
not a little proud.
[Footnote 2: Named in honor of the amateur engineers.]
A neglected knot-hole soon caused the boat to leak badly. We had made
but one circuit, when we were obliged to "hug the shore" and devote our
entire energies to bailing. "Tip her a little more," I cried, and the
next instant we were both rolled into the water. It was an absurd
experience, and after scrambling out, our clothes so heavy we could
scarcely step, we vowed, between hysteric fits of laughter, to keep our
tip-over a profound secret.
But the next time I went to town, friends began to smile mysteriously,
asked me if I had been out on the lake yet, made sly and jocose
allusions to a sudden change to Baptistic faith, and if I cordially
invited them to join me in a row, would declare a preference for surf
and salt water, or, if pressed, would murmur in the meanest way
something about having a bath-tub at home.
It is now nearly a year since that little adventure, but it is still a
subject of mirth, even in other towns. A friend calling yesterday told
me the version he had just heard at Gillford, ten miles away!
"You bet they have comical goings-on at that woman's farm by the
Gooseville depot! She got a regular menagerie, fust off--everything she
see or could hear of. Got sick o' the circus bizness, and went into
potatoes deep. They say she was actually up and outdoors by day-break,
working and worrying over the tater bugs!
"She's a red-headed, fleshy woman, and some of our folks going by in the
cars would tell of seeing her tramping up and down the long furrows,
with half a dozen boys hired to help her. Soon as she'd killed most of
her own, a million more just traveled over from the field opposite where
they had had their own way and cleaned out most everything. Then, what
the bugs spared, the long rains rotted. So I hear she's giv' up
"Then she got sot on scooping out a seven by nine mud hole to make a
pond, and had a boat built to match.
"Well, by darn, she took a stout woman in with her, and, as I heerd it,
that boat just giv' one groan, and sunk right down!"
As to the potatoes, I might never have escaped from that terrific
thralldom, if a city friend, after hearing my woful experience, had not
"Why have potatoes? It's much cheaper to buy all you need!"
I had been laboring under a strange spell--supposed I must plant
potatoes; the relief is unspeakable.
Jennie June once said, "The great art of life is to eliminate." I
admired the condensed wisdom of this, but, like experience, it only
serves to illume the path over which I have passed.
One little incident occurred this spring which is too funny to withhold.
Among the groceries ordered from Boston was a piece of extra fine
cheese. A connoisseur in cheese had advised me to try it. It recommended
itself so strongly that I placed it carefully under glass, in a place
all by itself. It was strong--strong enough to sew buttons on, strong
as Sampson, strong enough to walk away alone. One warm morning it
seemed to have gained during the night. Its penetrating, permeating
power was something, almost supernatural. I carried it from one place to
another, each time more remote. It would not be lonely if segregrated,
doubtless it had ample social facilities within itself! At last I became
desperate. "Ellen," I exclaimed, "just bring in that cheese and burn it.
It comes high, too high. I can not endure it." She opened the top of the
range and, as the cremation was going on, I continued my comments. "Why,
in all my life, I never knew anything like it; wherever I put it--in
pantry, swing cupboard, on the cellar stairs, in a tin box, on top of
the refrigerator--way out on that--" Just then Tom opened the door and
"Miss, your fertilizer's come!"
I have told you of my mistakes, failures, losses, but have you any idea
of my daily delights, my lasting gains?
From invalidism to health, from mental depression to exuberant spirits,
that is the blessed record of two years of amateur farming. What has
done this? Exercise, actual hard work, digging in the dirt. We are made
of dust, and the closer our companionship with Mother Earth in summer
time the longer we shall keep above ground. Then the freedom from
conventional restraints of dress; no necessity for "crimps," no need of
foreign hirsute adornment, no dresses with tight arm holes and trailing
skirts, no high-heeled slippers with pointed toes, but comfort, clear
comfort, indoors and out.
Plenty of rocking chairs, lounges that make one sleepy just to look at
them, open fires in every room, and nothing too fine for the sun to
glorify; butter, eggs, cream, vegetables, poultry--simply perfect, and
the rare, ecstatic privilege of eating onions--onions raw, boiled,
baked, and fried at any hour or all hours. I said comfort; it is luxury!
Dr. Holmes says: "I have seen respectability and amiability grouped over
the air-tight stove, I have seen virtue and intelligence hovering over
the register, but I have never seen true happiness in a family circle
where the faces were not illuminated by the blaze of an open fireplace."
And nature! I could fill pages with glowing descriptions of Days
Outdoors. In my own homely pasture I have found the dainty wild rose,
the little field strawberries so fragrant and spicy, the blue berries
high and low, so desirable for "pie-fodder," and daisies and ferns in
abundance, and, in an adjoining meadow by the brookside, the cardinal
flower and the blue gentian. All these simple pleasures seem better to
me than sitting in heated, crowded rooms listening to interminable
music, or to men or women who never know when to stop, or rushing round
to gain more information on anything and everything from Alaska to
Zululand, and wildly struggling to catch up with "social duties."
City friends, looking at the other side of the shield, marvel at my
contentment, and regard me as buried alive. But when I go back for a
short time to the old life I am fairly homesick. I miss my daily visit
to the cows and the frolic with the dogs. All that has been unpleasant
fades like a dream.
I think of the delicious morning hours on the broad vine-covered piazza,
the evenings with their starry splendor or witching moonlight, the
nights of sound sleep and refreshing rest, the all-day picnics, the
jolly drives with friends as charmed with country life as myself, and I
weary of social functions and overpowering intellectual privileges, and
every other advantage of the metropolis, and long to migrate once more
from Gotham to Gooseville.
"Dear country life of child and man!
For both the best, the strongest,
That with the earliest race began,
And hast outlived the longest,
Their cities perished long ago;
Who the first farmers were we know."