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Among the Farmyard People by  Clara Dillingham Pierson

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THE DISCONTENTED GUINEA HEN

[213]

"W
ELL," said the Gobbler, "I should like to know what next! Last spring it was the White Pig, when we had never had any but black and brown ones on the place. Next it was Ducks, because one of the farmer's boys wanted them. Then it was the Peacock, to please the farmer's wife. Now it is Guinea Fowls for the farmer's other son. Society isn't what it used to be here, and while some of the new people may be very pleasant, I must say that I preferred the good old quiet days."

"I think it is lovely," cackled the cheerful little Bantam Hen. "One hears so much of the world outside, and for [214] people like myself, who stay at home, that is a good thing. Everybody loved the White Pig before she had been here two days, and my children are very fond of the Ducklings. I like to have them together, too, for after I had told them positively that my Chickens could not go in swimming, they stopped teasing and became most delightful playmates."

"What would you say about the Peacock?" asked the Shanghai Cock, who had never been friendly with him, although, to tell the truth, the Shanghai Cock was not so grumpy as he used to be.

"Er—er—well," said the Bantam Hen, who tried not to say unpleasant things about people unless she really had to, "he—he is certainly beautiful, although I can't say that I am fond of hearing him sing."

This made all the fowls laugh, even the Gobbler looking a little smiling around the beak on the side where his hanging [215] wattle did not hide his face. When the Hen Turkeys on the smiling side saw that he was pleased, they began to smile too; and then the Hen Turkeys on the other side, who hadn't been sure that it was safe for them to do so, smiled also. And it did them all a great deal of good.

"I didn't see the Guinea Fowls," said one of the Geese. "We were swimming when they came. How do they look? Are they handsomely dressed? We shall not call upon them unless they are our kind of people." It was some time since their last plucking for the season, and the Geese were growing more airy every day now.

"They are really very peculiar," said the Black Spanish Hen, "and not at all common-looking. I should call them decidedly genteel." Here the Geese looked at each other and nodded. They were always talking about being genteel, although if you had asked them, they [216] might not have been able to tell what they meant by the word. "They are shaped quite like small Hen Turkeys," added the Black Spanish Hen "and their feathers are a dark bluish-gray with round white spots all over them. They do not wear any feathers on top of their heads. When I saw the first one, I thought she must have lost hers in an accident, but after the other came up, I knew it must be the custom in their family."

"And they are shaped like us?" asked the Hen Turkeys all together. They were thinking that perhaps the Black Spanish Hen would call them genteel-looking also, but she didn't.

"Very much like you," she replied. "In fact, I think they said something about being related to your family, although I am not sure. Do you remember, dear?" she said, turning to the Black Spanish Cock.

"Certainly," he answered. "The Guinea [217] Hen with the orange-colored legs said that their family was related to both the Turkeys and the Peacocks, and that they were pleased to see members of those families here."

"Gobble-gobble-gobble," called the Gobbler to the Hen Turkeys. "You must call upon our relatives as soon as you can. I will go later. I always wait to find out more about strangers before calling. It is my way." He didn't stop to think that if everybody waited as long as he did, the strangers would be very lonely.

After this, they scattered to feed, and the Hen Turkeys and their children looked for the Guinea Fowls. "Listen," said one, "and we may hear them talking to each other." They stood still, with their heads well up and turned a little to one side. They heard a harsh voice saying, "Ca-mac! Ca-mac!" and as none of their old friends ever said "Ca-mac!" they knew at once that it was one of the [218] newcomers. They walked around the corner of the Sheep-shed, and there found them, a Guinea Cock and two Guinea Hens. One of the Guinea Hens had orange-colored legs, while the others had dark grayish-brown ones.

"Good-morning," said the Hen Turkeys. "Are you the Guinea Fowls?"

"We are," said the one with the bright-colored legs, "and you are the Turkeys, are you not?"

"We are the Hen Turkeys," said they, "and these are our children. The Gobbler didn't feel that he could come with us this morning, but he will come later. He got very tired in Grasshopper season and is hardly over it yet."

"That is too bad," said the Guinea Cock politely. "We hope he will soon be better. It is a hard time for all Turkeys—so much running to and fro, besides the stretching of the neck whenever a Grasshopper comes near."

[219] "Perhaps he overate somewhat," said one of the Hen Turkeys. "We were quite worried about him for a time. He slept so poorly and dreamed that he was being chased. He always had a good appetite, and you know how it is when there is so much food around. On cannot let it alone."

So they chatted on about one thing and another, and walked as they visited. The Guinea Fowls were more fussy and restless than the Turkeys, and even when they were speaking would run after some dainty bit of food that had just caught their eyes. Of course the Hen Turkeys said how glad they were to have the Guinea Fowls come there to live, and hoped that they would enjoy their new home. All of the farmyard people thought it a most delightful place.

"Oh, yes," cried the Guinea Hen with the bright-colored legs, "it is very pleasant, of course, but I wish you could see the farm we left."

[220] "Why! Was it better than this?" asked the Turkey Chicks, crowding around her. They were so surprised that they forgot their mothers' telling them that if they came they must be very quiet, and making them all repeat together, "Little Turkeys should be seen and not heard."

"Better? My dears, it was not to be spoken of in the same breath. I understand that when one has always lived here, this may seem very nice, but when one has known better things, it is hard to be content."

"Still, we shall be very happy here, I am sure," said the other Guinea Hen, the one with the brown legs. "People all seem so bright and pleasant. I like it very much indeed."

"We are glad of that," said the Turkeys all together. "We really must be going. We fear we have stayed too long already. The Gobbler will wonder if we are never coming back. Good-morning."

[221] As they walked off to look for him, one Hen Turkey said to another, "It must be hard to come here after living on that farm."

"Yes," was the answer, "I suppose that we don't really know what comfort is here."

When the Gobbler asked them about the Guinea Fowls, and how they were enjoying their new home, the Hen Turkeys sighed and answered, "Oh, as well as they can enjoy this farm, we suppose." The Gobbler was a little surprised by this reply, but he said nothing, and as he pecked at the corn which had just been spilled form the load the Oxen were drawing, he thought, "I wish we could have better corn to eat. This does not taste quite as it should."

When the Geese met the Guinea Fowls, they began to speak of the pleasure of living on such a fine farm. "Ah," said the Guinea Hen with the bright-colored [222] legs, "how I wish you might see the one we left when we came here. It was so different."

The other Guinea Fowls looked uncomfortable when she spoke in this way, and stood first on one foot and then on the other. Then the Cock said something about the sunshiny fall weather, and the good neighbors, and—and—

The Gander spoke again of the farm. "It is not all that we could wish," said he: "still there are some good things about it. There are several swimming places which are fine and cold in winter."

"If it were only better cared for," said the Gray Goose. "I had a dreadful time a while ago, when I tried to get through a hole in the fence. I don't remember what was the matter with the hole, and perhaps I never knew, but the farmer should have such things fixed. My neck was lame for days afterward, and he was wholly to blame."

[223] After this, the Geese found fault with almost everything, and when there was no one thing to grumble about, they sighed because, "It was so different from what it might be." It was not long before even the spring Chickens, the Goslings, and the Ducklings were speaking in the same way, and the poultry-yard was a most doleful place. The Bantam Hen was the only really cheerful fowl there, and she got so tired of hearing the rest sigh and grumble, that she often slipped between the pickets of the fence and went to have a comfortable chat with the Oxen.

One day she fluttered toward them in a most excited manner. "Do I look nearly crazy?" said she. "I feel so. Ever since our last storm, the Guinea Fowls have been shut in with us, and I would give half of my tail-feathers if they had never come here. That one with the orange-colored legs can't see good in anything, and all of our steady, sensible fowls [224] have heard it until they begin to believe that this farm is a wretched place."

"What do they do?" asked the Nigh Ox, who always enjoyed hearing the Bantam Hen talk.

"Do?" said she, shaking her dainty little head. "They don't do much of anything. That is what is the matter, and the young fowls are the worst of all. You know how it used to be at feeding time? We all fluttered and squabbled for the first chance at the food. Some Hen got the biggest piece, and then the rest would chase her from one corner to another, and not give her a chance to break and swallow any of it until she would share with them. It was great fun, and we never left a scrap uneaten. Now, what do you think?"

"Can't imagine," exclaimed the Oxen in one breath.

"Well, they all stand around on one foot for a while, and I am the only one [225] eating. Then somebody says, 'I wonder if this is any better than the last we had.' Another will groan, 'Oh, it is time to eat again?' or, 'Suppose I must eat something to keep up my strength.' Then I hear the bright-legged Guinea Hen say, 'Ca-mac! Ca-mac! This is all so different, so very different from what I have been used to.' The Cock and the other Hen of that family are nice enough if you only get them away from her."

"What nonsense!" exclaimed the Oxen together, and they spoke quite sharply for them.

"I wish," said the Bantam Hen very slowly, and as though she meant every word—"I wish the bright-legged one were back where it was 'so different.' Perhaps then my friends would begin to act like themselves."

"Where did she come from?" asked the Off Ox. "It seems to me that I saw a bright-legged Guinea Hen somewhere [226] not long ago." He thought very hard, so hard that he swallowed his cud without knowing he did so.

"Wasn't it at the place where we took that load of stone, the other day?" asked the Nigh Ox, trying to help his brother. He knew how disagreeable it is not to be able to recall anything of that sort.

"It was," cried the Off Ox; "and a very poor farm it is. It was the same Hen too. Talk about its being different! I should say it was different from this place, but there are a good many ways of being different. Um-hum! I think I will talk with the discontented Guinea Hen before long, and I want you to see that the other fowls are listening when I do."

Although he would say nothing more, the Bantam Hen saw from the look in his eyes that he meant to stop the Guinea Hen's complaining, so she went away feeling happier. Then the Off Ox unswallowed his cud and began to chew it [227] as though nothing had happened. His brother heard him chuckle once in a while, and say, "Different!" under his breath.

When the Off Ox awakened from time to time during that night and heard the Guinea Hens talking in the dark, he chuckled again to himself. The Guinea Cock was a sound sleeper, but the Hens always talked a great deal between sunset and sunrise, and especially if it were about to rain. Other people thought that they might talk more in the daytime and then keep quiet when their neighbors wanted to sleep. They declared that they always remembered so many things to say as soon as they went to roost, and that if they waited until morning, they might forget more than half.

The very next day, the Off Ox had the chance he wanted. He and his brother were yoked to the stone-boat and left standing by the poultry-yard. "Good- [228] afternoon," said he. "Is the bright-legged Guinea Hen here?"

"I am," she answered, coming close to the pickets.

"We are just going over to your old home," said he, "with this load of stone. Have you any messages to send to your friends?"

The Guinea Hen looked rather uncomfortable, and stood first on one foot and then the other. "Tell them I am well," said she.

"I will," said the Off Ox, in his hearty way. "I will try to tell them all. I think I can, too, for there did not seem to be many people in that farmyard. I didn't see Ducks or Geese at all. Are there any living there?"

"No," said the Guinea Hen. She did not seem to think of anything else to say, although nobody spoke for a long time.

"Of course not!" exclaimed the Off Ox. [229] "How stupid of me to ask. There is no brook or river on that farm."

Still the Guinea Hen said nothing.

"We are dragging stone for the new barn," said the Off Ox. "Or perhaps I should say for their barn. One could hardly say that they have any yet, although I suppose they use those loosely built sheds for barns. I wonder people can spend a winter where there are such drafts; still, home is always home, and people love it for that reason. We are glad to have your family with us, not only to keep away the Crows (which was part of the Guinea Fowls' work), but because you will be more comfortable. I've never yet in all my travels seen so good a farm as this, and the one you left was so different! Good-bye."

There was not much talking in the poultry-yard the rest of the afternoon, although most of the fowls looked happier than they had for many days. When [230] supper-time came, the Dorking Hens snatched the biggest pieces of food, and the others chased her form corner to corner in quite the old way. Every scrap was eaten, and nobody laughed when the Shanghai Cock said that the fine weather had given him a better appetite. It was really a dark and chilly day, but they had stopped thinking how much better off they would be if they only lived somewhere else. As soon as they stopped thinking that, they could see how well they were cared for at home. And so, although nobody had really looked at the sky or thought about the weather, everybody had a feeling that the sun must have been shining.

Perhaps the Guinea Cock and the other Guinea Hen were the happiest of all, for they had known what to do or say when the bright-legged one talked about her old home. It all seemed like a joke now, yet she never like the Off Ox after [231] that day. The other fowls were as nice to her as ever, for they knew it was a sad thing to be discontented, and they knew, also, that if they had not been foolish enough to let her, she could never have made them unhappy.


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