Kate Sanborn.

Adopting an Abandoned Farm online

. (page 3 of 6)
Online LibraryKate SanbornAdopting an Abandoned Farm → online text (page 3 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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
a livin'."

"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!"

"Crankin says - "

"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° to 104°. 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
condensed list:

DISEASES OF NERVOUS SYSTEM. - 1. Apoplexy. 2. Paralysis. 3. Vertigo.
4. Neuralgia. 5. Debility.


DISEASES OF LOCOMOTIVE ORGANS. - 1. Rheumatism. 2. Cramp. 3. Gout. 4.
Leg weakness. 5. Paralysis of legs. 6. Elephantiasis.

Next, diseases caused by parasites.

Then, injuries.

Lastly, miscellaneous.

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
my readers.

"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
ag'in her."

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 portière 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 portière. 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
no response.

I could stand it no longer - the portière 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

1 3 5 6

Online LibraryKate SanbornAdopting an Abandoned Farm → online text (page 3 of 6)