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Chapter 18 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

After breakfast, Mrs. Wood put on a large apron, and going into the kitchen, said: “Have you any scraps for the hens, Adele? Be sure and not give me anything salty.”

The French girl gave her a dish of food, then Mrs. Wood asked Miss Laura to go and see her chickens, and away we went to the poultry house.

On the way we saw Mr. Wood. He was sitting on the step of the tool shed cleaning his gun “Is the dog dead?” asked Miss Laura.

“Yes,” he said.

She sighed and said: “Poor creature, I am sorry he had to be killed. Uncle, what is the most merciful way to kill a dog? Sometimes, when they get old, they should be put out of the way.”

“You can shoot them,” he said, “or you can poison them. I shot Bruno through his head into his neck. There's a right place to aim at. It's a little one side of the top of the skull. If you'll remind me I'll show you a circular I have in the house. It tells the proper way to kill animals. The American Humane Education Society in Boston puts it out, and it's a merciful thing.

“You don't know anything about the slaughtering of animals, Laura, and it's well you don't. There's an awful amount of cruelty practiced, and practiced by some people that think themselves pretty good. I wouldn't have my lambs killed the way my father had his for a kingdom. I'll never forget the first one I saw butchered. I wouldn't feel worse at a hanging now. And that white ox, Hattie you remember my telling you about him. He had to be killed, and father sent for the butcher. I was only a lad, and I was all of a shudder to have the life of the creature I had known taken from him. The butcher, stupid clown, gave him eight blows before he struck the right place. The ox bellowed, and turned his great black eyes on my father, and I fell in a faint.”

Miss Laura turned away, and Mrs. Wood followed her, saying: “If ever you want to kill a cat, Laura, give it cyanide of potassium. I killed a poor old sick cat for Mrs. Windham the other day. We put half a teaspoonful of pure cyanide of potassium in a long-handled wooden spoon, and dropped it on the cat's tongue, as near the throat as we could. Poor pussy she died in a few seconds. Do you know, I was reading such a funny thing the other day about giving cats medicine. They hate it, and one can scarcely force it into their mouths on account of their sharp teeth. The way is, to smear it on their sides, and they lick it off. A good idea, isn't it? Here we are at the hen douse, or rather one of the hen houses.”

“Don't you keep your hens all together?” asked Miss Laura.

“Only in the winter time,” said Mrs. Wood, “I divide my flock in the spring. Part of them stay here and part go to the orchard to live in little movable houses that we put about in different places. I feed each flock morning and evening at their own little house. They know they'll get no food even if they come to my house, so they stay at home. And they know they'll get no food between times, so all day long they pick and scratch in the orchard, and destroy so many bugs and insects that it more than pays for the trouble of keeping them there.”

“Doesn't this flock want to mix up with the other?” asked Miss Laura, as she stepped into the little wooden house.

“No; they seem to understand. I keep my eye on them for a while at first, and they soon find out that they're not to fly either over the garden fence or the orchard fence. They roam over the farm and pick up what they can get. There's a good deal of sense in hens, if one manages them properly. I love them because they are such good mothers.”

We were in the little wooden house by this time, and I looked around it with surprise. It was better than some of the poor people's houses in Fairport. The walls were white and clean, so were the little ladders that led up to different kinds of roosts, where the fowls sat at night. Some roosts were thin and round, and some were broad and flat. Mrs. Wood said that the broad ones were for a heavy fowl called the Brahma. Every part of the little house was almost as light as it was outdoors, on account of the large windows.

Miss Laura spoke of it. “Why, auntie, I never saw such a light hen house.”

Mrs. Wood was diving into a partly shut-in place, where it was not so light, and where the nests were. She straightened herself up, her face redder than ever, and looked at the windows with a pleased smile.

“Yes, there's not a hen house in New Hampshire with such big windows. Whenever I look at them, I think of my mother's hens, and wish that they could have had a place like this. They would have thought themselves in a hen's paradise. When I was a girl we didn't know that hens loved light and heat, and all winter they used to sit in a dark hencoop, and the cold was so bad that their combs would freeze stiff, and the tops of them would drop off. We never thought about it. If we'd had any sense, we might have watched them on a fine day go and sit on the compost heap and sun themselves, and then have concluded that if they liked light and heat outside, they'd like it inside. Poor biddies, they were so cold that they wouldn't lay us any eggs in winter.”

“You take a great interest in your poultry, don't you, auntie?” said Miss Laura.

“Yes, indeed, and well I may. I'll show you my brown Leghorn, Jenny, that lay eggs enough in a year to pay for the newspapers I take to keep myself posted in poultry matters. I buy all my own clothes with my hen money, and lately I've started a bank account, for I want to save up enough to start a few stands of bees. Even if I didn't want to be kind to my hens, it would pay me to be so for sake of the profit they yield. Of course they're quite a lot of trouble. Sometimes they get vermin on them, and I have to grease them and dust carbolic acid on them, and try some of my numerous cures. Then I must keep ashes and dust wallows for them and be very particular about my eggs when hens are sitting, and see that the hens come off regularly for food and exercise. Oh, there are a hundred things I have to think of, but I always say to any one that thinks of raising poultry: 'If you are going into the business for the purpose of making money, it pays to take care of them.'”

“There's one thing I notice,” said Miss Laura, “and that is that your drinking fountains must be a great deal better than the shallow pans that I have seen some people give their hens water in.”

“Dirty things they are,” said Mrs. Wood; “I wouldn't use one of them. I don't think there is anything worse for hens than drinking dirty water. My hens must have as clean water as I drink myself, and in winter I heat it for them. If it's poured boiling into the fountains in the morning, it keeps warm till night. Speaking of shallow drinking dishes, I wouldn't use them, even before I ever heard of a drinking fountain. John made me something that we read about. He used to take a powder keg and bore a little hole in the side, about an inch from the top, then fill it with water, and cover with a pan a little larger round than the keg. Then he turned the keg upside down, without taking away the pan. The water ran into the pan only as far as the hole in the keg, and it would have to be used before more would flow in. Now let us go and see my beautiful, bronze turkeys. They don't need any houses, for they roost in the trees the year round.”

We found the flock of turkeys, and Miss Laura admired their changeable colors very much. Some of them were very large, and I did not like them, for the gobblers ran at me, and made a dreadful noise in their throats.

Afterward, Mrs. Wood showed us some ducks that she had shut up in a yard. She said that she was feeding them on vegetable food, to give their flesh a pure flavor, and by-and-by she would send them to market and get a high price for them.

Every place she took us to was as clean as possible. “No one can be successful in raising poultry in large numbers,” she said, “unless they keep their quarters clean and comfortable.”

As yet we had seen no hens, except a few on the nests, and Miss Laura said, “Where are they? I should like to see them.”

“They are coming,” said Mrs. Wood. “It is just their breakfast time, and they are as punctual as clockwork. They go off early in the morning, to scratch about a little for themselves first.”

As she spoke she stepped off the plank walk and looked off towards the fields.

Miss Laura burst out laughing. Away beyond the barns the hens were coming. Seeing Mrs. Wood standing there, they thought they were late, and began to run and fly, jumping over each other's backs, and stretching out their necks, in a state of great excitement. Some of their legs seemed slicking straight out behind. It was very funny to see them.

They were a fine-looking lot of poultry, mostly white, with glossy feathers and bright eyes. They greedily ate the food scattered to them and Mrs. Wood said, “They think I've changed their breakfast time, and to-morrow they'll come a good bit earlier. And yet some people say hens have no sense.”

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