One lovely morning Hildegarde stood at the back door, feeding the fowls. She wore her brown gingham frock with the yellow daisies on it, and the daisy-wreathed hat, and in her hands she held a great yellow bowl full of yellow corn. So bright a picture she made that Farmer Hartley, driving the oxen afield, stopped for pure pleasure to look at her. Around her the ducks and hens were fighting and squabbling, quacking, clucking, and gobbling, and she flung the corn in golden showers on their heads and backs, making them nearly frantic with greedy anxiety.
[Illustration: “SHE FLUNG THE CORN IN GOLDEN SHOWERS ON THEIR HEADS.”]
“Wal, Huldy,” said the farmer, leaning against Bright’s massive side, “you look pooty slick in that gown, I must say. I reckon thar ain’t no sech gown as that on Fifth Avenoo, hey?”
“Indeed, I don’t believe there is, Farmer Hartley,” replied Hilda, laughing merrily; “at least I never saw one like it. It is pretty, I think, and so comfortable! And where are you going this morning with the mammoths?”
“Down to the ten-acre lot,” replied the farmer. “The men are makin’ hay thar to-day. Jump into the riggin’ and come along,” he added. “Ye kin hev a little ride, an’ see the hay-makin’. Pooty sight ’tis, to my thinkin’.”
“May I?” cried Hilda, eagerly. “I am sure these fowls have had enough. Go away now, you greedy creatures! There, you shall have all there is!” and she emptied the bowl over the astonished dignitaries of the barn-yard, laid it down on the settle in the porch, and jumped gayly into the “rigging,” as the great hay-cart was called.
“Haw, Bright! hoish, Star!” said the farmer, touching one and then the other of the great black oxen lightly with his goad. The huge beasts swayed from side to side, and finally succeeded in getting themselves and the cart in motion, while the farmer walked leisurely beside them, tapping and poking them occasionally, and talking to them in that mystic language which only oxen and their drivers understand. Down the sweet country lane they went, with the willows hanging over them, and the daisies and buttercups and meadow-sweet running riot all over the banks. Hilda stood up in the cart and pulled off twigs from the willows as she passed under them, and made garlands, which the farmer obediently put over the oxen’s necks. She hummed little snatches of song, and chatted gayly with her kind old host; for the world was very fair, and her heart was full of summer and sunshine.
“And have you always lived here, Farmer Hartley?” she asked. “All your life, I mean?”
“No, not all my life,” replied the farmer, “though pooty nigh it. I was ten year old when my uncle died, and father left sea-farin’, and kem home to the farm to live. Before that we’d lived in different places, movin’ round, like. We was at sea a good deal, sailin’ with father when he went on pleasant voyages, to the West Indies, or sich. But sence then I ain’t ben away much. I don’t seem to find no pleasanter place than the old farm, somehow.”