| Among the Night People|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Stories of animals of the night for young children, relating the activities of raccoons, skunks, moths, foxes, fireflies, and weasels. Since we can't understand animal language, the author depicts the animals talking to each other in English, but she does it so skillfully that you can imagine that they are using their own ways of communicating through voice and gesture. Ages 5-7 |
THE BLACK SPANISH CHICKENS
HEN the Speckled Hen wanted to sit there was no use in
trying to talk her out of the idea, for she was a very
set Hen. So, after the farmer's wife had worked and
worked, and barred her out of first one nesting-place
and then another, she gave up to the Speckled Hen and
fixed her a fine nest and put thirteen eggs into it.
They were Black Spanish eggs, but the Speckled Hen did
not know that. The Hens that had laid them could not
bear to sit, so, unless some other Hen did the work
which they left undone, there would have been no Black
Spanish Chickens. This is always their way, and people
have grown used to it.
 Now nobody thinks of asking a Black Spanish Hen to sit,
although it does not seem right that a Hen should be
unwilling to bring up chickens. Supposing nobody had
been willing to bring her up?
Still, the Black Spanish Hens talk very reasonably
about it. "We will lay plenty of eggs," they say, "but
some of the common Hens must hatch them." They do
their share of the farmyard work, only they insist on
choosing what that share shall be.
When the Speckled Hen came off the nest with eleven
Black Chickens (two of the eggs did not hatch), she was
not altogether happy. "I wanted them to be speckled,"
said she, "and not one of the whole brood is." That
was why she grew so restless and discontented in her
coop, although it was roomy and clean and she had
plenty given her to eat and drink. She was quite happy
only when they were safely under her wings at night.
 And such a time as they always had getting settled!
When the sunbeams came more and more slantingly through
the trees, the Chickens felt less and less like running
around. Their tiny legs were tired and they liked to
cuddle down on the grass in the shadow of the coop.
Then the Speckled Hen often clucked to them to come in
and rest, but they liked it better in the open air.
The Speckled Hen would also have liked to be out of the
coop, yet the farmer kept her in. He knew what was
best for Hens with little Chickens, and also what was
best for the tender young lettuce and radishes in his
When the sun was nearly down, the Speckled Hen clucked
her come-to-bed cluck, which was quite different from
her food cluck or her Hawk cluck, and the little Black
Chickens ran between the bars and crawled under her
feathers. Then the
 Speckled Hen began to look fatter and fatter and fatter
for each Chicken who nestled beneath her. Sometimes
one little fellow would scramble up on to her back and
stand there, while she turned her head from side to
side, looking at him with first one and then the other
of her round yellow eyes, and scolding him all the
time. It never did any good to scold, but she said she
had to do something, and with ten other children under
her wings it would never do for her to stand up and
tumble him off.
All the time that they were getting settled for the
night the Chickens were talking in sleepy little cheeps,
and now and then one of them would poke his head out
between the feathers and tell the Speckled Hen that
somebody was pushing him. Then she would be more
puzzled than ever and cluck louder still. Sometimes,
too, the Chickens would run out for another mouthful of
 mush or a few more drops of water. There was one
little fellow who always wanted something to drink just
when he should have been going to sleep. The Speckled
Hen used to say that it took longer for a mouthful of
water to run down his throat than it would for her to
drink the whole panful. Of course it did take quite a
while, because he
couldn't hurry it by swallowing. He
had to drink, as all birds do, by filling his beak with
water and then holding it up until the last drop had
trickled down into his stomach.
When the whole eleven were at last safely tucked away
for the night, the Speckled Hen was tired but happy.
"They are good children," she often said to herself,
"if they are Black Spanish. They might be just as
mischievous if they were speckled; still, I do wish
that those stylish-looking, white-eared Black Spanish
Hens would raise their own broods.
I don't like to be
hatch-mother to other
 Hens' chickens." Then she would slide her eyelids over
her eyes, and doze off, and dream that they were all
speckled like herself.
THEY WERE FREE TO GO WHERE THEY CHOSE.
There came a day when the coop was raised and they were
free to go where they chose. There was a fence around
the vegetable garden now and netting around the
flower-beds, but there were other lovely places for
scratching up food, for nipping off tender young green
things, for picking up the fine gravel which every
Chicken needs, and for wallowing in the dust. Then the
Black Spanish Chickens became acquainted with the other
fowls whom they had never met before. They were rather
afraid of the Shanghai Cock because he had such a gruff
way of speaking, and they liked the Dorkings, yet the
ones they watched and admired and talked most about
were the Black Spanish Cock and Hen. There were many
fowls on the farm who did not have
fam-  ily names, and the Speckled Hen was one of these. They
had been there longer than the rest and did not really
like having new people come to live in the
poultry-yard. It was trying, too, when the older Hens
had to hatch the eggs laid by the newcomers.
It is said that this was what made the Speckled Hen
leave the eleven little Black Spanish Chickens after
she had been out of the coop for a while. They had
been very mischievous and disobedient one day, and she
walked off and left them to care for themselves while
she started to raise a family of her own in a stolen
nest under the straw-stack.
When night came, eleven little Black Spanish Chickens
did not know what to do. They went to look for their
old coop, but that had been given to another Hen and
her family. They walked around looking very small and
lonely, and wished they had minded the Speckled
 Hen and made her love them more. At last they found an
old potato-crate which reminded them of a coop and so
seemed rather homelike. It stood, top down, upon the
ground and they were too big to crawl through its
barred sides, so they did the best they could and
huddled together on top of it. If there had not been a
stone-heap near, they could not have done that, for
their wing-feathers were not yet large enough to help
them flutter. The bravest Chicken went first, picking
his way from stone to stone until he reached the
highest one, balancing himself awhile on that,
stretching his neck toward the potato-crate, looking at
it as though he were about to jump, and then seeming to
change his mind and decide not to do so after all.
The Chickens on the ground said he was afraid, and he
wasn't any more afraid than they were. Then,
after a while, he did jump, a queer, floppy,
 squawky kind of jump, but it landed him where he wanted
to be. After that it was his turn to laugh at the
others while they stood teetering uncertainly on the
top stone. They were very lonely without the Speckled
Hen, and each Chicken wanted to be in the middle of the
group to keep him warm on all sides.
Somebody laughed at the most mischievous Chicken and
told him he could stand on the potato-crate's back
without being scolded, and he pouted his bill and said:
"Much fun that would be! All I cared about standing on
the Speckled Hen's back was to make her scold!" It is
very shocking that he should say such things, but he
did say exactly that.
They slept safely that night, and only awakened when
the Cocks crowed a little while after midnight. After
that they slept until sunrise, and when the Shanghais
 and Dorkings came down from the apple-tree where they
had been roosting, the Black Spanish Chickens stirred
and cheeped, and looked at their feathers to see how
much they had grown during the night. Then they pushed
and squabbled for their breakfast.
Every night they came back to sleep on the
potato-crate. At last they were able to spring up into
their places without standing on the stone-pile, and
that was a great day. They talked about it long after
they should have been asleep, and were still chattering
when the Shanghai Cock spoke: "If you Black Spanish
Chickens don't keep still and let us sleep," said he,
"some Owl or Weasel will come for you, and I shall be
glad to have him!"
That scared the Chickens and they were very quiet. It
made the Black Spanish Hen uneasy though, and she
whispered to the Black Spanish Cock
wouldn't let him sleep until he had promised to
fight anybody who might try to carry one of the
Chickens away from the potato-crate.
The next night first one Chicken and then another kept
tumbling off the potato-crate. They lost their
patience and said such things as these to each other:
"You pushed me! You know you did!"
"Well, he pushed me!"
couldn't help it if I did!"
The Shanghai Cock became exceedingly cross because they
made so much noise, and even the Black Spanish Cock
lost his patience. "You may be my children," said he,
"but you do not take your manners from me. Is there no
other place on this farm where you can sleep excepting
that old crate?"
"We want to sleep here," answered
 the Chicken on the ground. "There is plenty of room if
wouldn't push." Then he flew up and
clung and pushed until some other Chicken tumbled off.
"Well!" said the Black Spanish Cock. And he would have
said much more if the Black Spanish Hen had not
fluttered down from the apple-tree to see what was the
matter. When he saw the expression of her eyes he
decided to go back to his perch.
"There is not room for you all," said the Black Spanish
Hen. "One must sleep somewhere else."
"There is room," said the Chickens,
contradicting her. "We have always roosted on here."
"There is not room," said the Black Spanish Hen
once more. "How do your feathers grow?"
"Finely," said they.
"And your feet?"
 "They are getting very big," was the answer.
"Do you think the Speckled Hen could cover you all with
her wings if she were to try it now?"
The Chickens looked at each other and laughed. They
thought it would take three Speckled Hens to cover
"But she used to," said the Black Spanish Hen. She did
not say anything more. She just looked at the
potato-crate and at them and at the potato-crate again.
Then she walked off.
After a while one of the Chickens said: "I guess
isn't room for us all there."
The mischievous one said: "If you little Chickens want
to roost there you may. I am too large for that sort of
thing." Then he walked up the slanting board to the
apple-tree branch and perched there beside the young
Shanghais. You should have seen how beautifully
 he did it. His toes hooked themselves around the
branch as though he had always perched there, and he
tucked his head under his wing with quite an air.
Before long his brothers and sisters came also, and
heard him saying to one of his new neighbors, "Oh, yes,
I much prefer apple-trees, but when I was a Chicken I
used to sleep on a potato-crate."
"Just listen to him!" whispered the Black Spanish Cock.
hasn't a tail-feather worth mentioning!"
"Never mind," answered the Black Spanish Hen. "Let
them play that they are grown up if they want to. They
will be soon enough." She sighed as she put her head
under her wing and settled down for the night. It made
her feel old to see her children roosting in a tree.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics