Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and Her Chickens

The farmyard by Beatrix Potter for The Tale of Mrs. Jemima Puddle-Duck

One last animal story from Mrs. Grant from the days when she was a "splendid farmer's wife."

"Ulys brought me all the new breeds of chickens: the Shanghais, the Brahmas, and the pretty little Bantams. The two little boys [the first two Grant children] and I used to greatly enjoy throwing handfuls of wheat and other grain to this beautiful feathery portion of our family. Of course, each of these distinguished foreigners had appropriate names: for instance, my large, beautiful silver-gray, with her proud, haughty step, I called 'Celeste' from the Celestial Empire, and her lord, 'The Great Mogul,' and I remember how a magnificent domestic cock with gorgeous plumage used to lord it over these clumsy foreigners, with only size to boast of. I noticed the same little tricks of gallantry in these foreign birds that could be noticed in ours. For instance, they would pretend to find some choice tidbit and would call loudly for the poor, innocent hens to come and share it, and every time these lords of the barnyards were fooling them and would quickly eat it up themselves.

"I must tell you of one instance which made me believe that chickens really understand the English language. Once after a heavy snowstorm, one of my women came in and asked if Jeff had not better put the chickens which were out in[to] the chickenhouse, 'as dem Chinese chickens did not know how to take care of themselves.' Very soon, I was informed that one of my pullets could not stand on her feet. I at once went out to the hennery to examine for myself. After giving the necessary directions for the poor thing's relief, I told Phyllis to bring out a bowl of cornmeal mixed with water. She had hardly started when the old cocks on the roosts aloft passed the word by a softly murmured cackle to their numerous families, and at once they all descended and surrounded me, looking wistfully and expectantly up at me. Of course, they were sent to bed well fed and were never again neglected in stormy weather."

P.S. Sadly, Beatrix Potter started publishing her stories in 1902, the year Mrs. Grant died. I think Mrs. Grant would have enjoyed them.

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