Finally, when we have separated and sorted exhaustively, an operation in which Phoebe shows a delicacy of discrimination and a fearlessness of attack amounting to genius, we count the entire number and find several missing. Searching for their animate or inanimate bodies, we “scoop” one from under the tool-house, chance upon two more who are being harried and pecked by the big geese in the lower meadow, and discover one sailing by himself in solitary splendour in the middle of the deserted pond, a look of evil triumph in his bead-like eye. Still we lack one young duckling, and he at length is found dead by the hedge. A rat has evidently seized him and choked him at a single throttle, but in such haste that he has not had time to carry away the tiny body.
“Poor think!” says Phoebe tearfully; “it looks as if it was ’it with some kind of a wepping. I don’t know whatever to do with the rats, they’re gettin’ that fearocious!”
Before I was admitted into daily contact with the living goose (my previous intercourse with him having been carried on when gravy and stuffing obscured his true personality), I thought him a very Dreyfus among fowls, a sorely slandered bird, to whom justice had never been done; for even the gentle Darwin is hard upon him. My opinion is undergoing some slight modifications, but I withhold judgment at present, hoping that some of the follies, faults, vagaries, and limitations that I observe in Phoebe’s geese may be due to Phoebe’s educational methods, which were, before my advent, those of the darkest ages.
By the time the ducks and geese are incarcerated for the night, the reasonable, sensible, practical-minded hens—especially those whose mentality is increased and whose virtue is heightened by the responsibilities of motherhood—have gone into their own particular rat-proof boxes, where they are waiting in a semi-somnolent state to have the wire doors closed, the bricks set against them, and the bits of sacking flung over the tops to keep out the draught. We have a great many young families, both ducklings and chicks, but we have no duck mothers at present. The variety of bird which Phoebe seems to have bred during the past year may be called the New Duck, with certain radical ideas about woman’s sphere. What will happen to Thornycroft if we develop a New Hen and a New Cow, my imagination fails to conceive. There does not seem to be the slightest danger for the moment, however, and our hens lay and sit and sit and lay as if laying and sitting were the twin purposes of life.