"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